Process Your Hurt
In order to handle the situation well, we have to understand what's going on in us. Is your reaction about this issue, or is it really about something that happened 10 years ago with some other person? If it’s triggering something from the past, that doesn’t make your feelings invalid, but it does help you sort through what’s happening in you and why—and that helps you approach this current situation without reacting so strongly.
I’ve found it helpful to have what I call “safe people” in my life who I can talk through these issues with and gain helpful perspective, people who will help me process my reaction to the situation. If I have a problem with Spencer and I’m still fuming, it’s not a good idea to talk to him right now. Instead, I need to talk to a safe person to help me process my own anger. It’s best to talk with someone completely unrelated to the situation and to the person you have the conflict with. Safe people need to be able to see it objectively and be able to keep the situation to themselves. They also can’t be someone who’s just going to stoke your anger. Someone who reacts saying, “Man, can you believe that? I cannot believe she did that to you!” isn’t a safe person. Go to somebody who is actually going to challenge you a little bit, seeking your heart and what’s going on inside of you rather than stoke your anger. Safe people validate our feelings, help us understand what’s happening in us, and then they turn us back to the person to deal with the situation.
Refuse to Make Assumptions
When we’re in the middle of these tough situations, we have a tendency to make assumptions. Based on my past experiences, I will make up a story in my head about what the other person is doing and why he or she is doing it. My wife, Dori, and I have these conversations all the time where she says, “You know, when you came in, you didn't talk to me, and you were in your own zone, so the story I’m making up is that you're angry with me.” This is really helpful language: “The story I’m making up is . . .” Rather than assume or place blame, we let the other person into our thoughts, and we start a conversation. As you deal with conflict, reflect on your own thoughts. If you’re assuming something, you need to realize it’s a story you’re making up, and it may not be true. So go talk to the person and share about the story you’re making up, and ask him or her about the truth. I’ve found so many times that the other person has no idea that I’m reading their words and actions that way.
One assumption you should make is that the other person has good intentions. We must walk into conflict trusting that others are doing the best they can with what they have. Thinking they’re stupid, clueless, or malicious isn’t helpful.