Last weekend, I was sitting in a park watching people laughing, talking, and arguing with each other. I started thinking about the phenomenon that things around us are really just our own perception. We feel, smell, taste, hear, and see situations and things the way we want, influenced by past experiences and our own cognitive processes.
Isn’t it interesting to think that, for example, the green tea I am drinking right now might taste totally different to you? Or the smell of vanilla might smell to you like the way roses smell to me? We will never really know. All we know is that vanilla smells the way we perceive it since we were told that this is vanilla and the smell we associate with it.
The same goes for our thoughts. The way people think about others is actually a reflection of their own feelings towards themselves, projected on others. So, when it comes to conflicts between people, how do we deal with different opinions and the emotional stress that comes along with them?
Here are five tips that might help you:
1. Do not take it personally
When you are in conflict with someone, what have you noticed? Have you felt personally attacked? Have you blamed yourself for mistakes you might have not even done or had control over? Sometimes we tend to readily see things as our fault, without even considering the other person as having a part in this too.
I’ve learned that the key to a happy and harmonious life is to not take other peoples’ anger personally. Sounds so easy right? It is if you keep reminding yourself that what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel is subject to our interpretation, and those are nothing but reflected projections of our state of mind. We pretty much see things the way we are instead of seeing them the way they are.
Thus, when people judge you, don’t like you without even knowing you, or accuse you of behaviors or characteristics, then keep in mind that they are describing themselves for the most part.
As Herman Hesse wrote: “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”
2. Know yourself
Emotions are leaders of our thoughts and moods. When we are in a great mood, everything seems easy and no one can actually provoke us with their negativity or rude comments. However, when we are tired, sad, or stressed, then it’s easy to get into a fight with someone.
Remind yourself that there are two kinds of emotions: primary and secondary emotions. A primary emotion is what you actually feel and the secondary emotion refers to what you show on the outside to others.
For example, when you are raising your voice, your primary emotion might be fear or the feeling of being helpless or inadequate. However, you show those feelings (secondary emotions) through screaming or insulting someone else with a mean comment.
So, let’s try to avoid making a permanent decision based on our temporary emotion. Next time or when in doubt, just try the old trick and take a few deep breaths; they hurt no one and you won’t regret them.
3. Be okay with not being right
Do you know anyone who actually likes to be in conflict with others? I have met people who enjoyed arguing about each and every little detail, and they just had to be right. Perhaps you are one of them? Have you ever asked yourself why you feel the need to be right? Again, how do you know that you are right?
Our thoughts are our unique perception, which does not necessarily represent reality. Thus, the other person’s perception might be different from ours, but not automatically wrong.
Look at it in that way: both of you can be right in one way or another, so instead of fighting over the little discrepancies, you might want to save both of your time and energy, and just meet each other half way.
As Carl Jung put it: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
4. Read between the lines
Have you met those people who like to point out your flaws? For example, a friend of mine met a former colleague in a store and the first thing this person said to her was that she gained weight. Why do some people feel the need to that?
The answer is quite simple: they usually have low self-esteem and struggle with doubts about themselves. The trick is that, if they can constantly find flaws in others, they feel better about themselves.
So let’s try to develop empathy instead of anger for them. This is something not too many of us can or want to do nowadays, because in order to empathize with others, we need to be able to forgive and be self-aware enough to understand that we are all in the same boat, we all have our own battles to fight.
As I mentioned before, someone’s reactions and behavior are based on their past experience and struggles in which they learned to react in certain ways to get what they needed. Fact is, conflicts cannot develop or exist with only one person involved.
Next time you start to get into an argument, let’s try this: simply stay calm and non-offensive, and you’ll notice that the other side will eventually become calm and less offensive too.
5. Don’t be a people pleaser
This is a phenomenon that I have encountered with former clients and even with myself. Particularly people in a helping profession like I am in, we tend to be people pleasers because we believe that this will help others.
A few years back, I had a pretty difficult client who I didn’t seem to connect with, thus I ended up not being able to help. This truly bothered me. It bothered me so much, that I started to blame myself for not being able to connect and help this person. I went so far that I questioned my ability to be a career counselor in general.
I finally asked myself what purpose I was actually serving in trying to please everyone. Turned out, I tended to determine my worth and likability through my ability to please others. This realization enabled me to watch my motives when talking to others.
This is an ongoing process that takes time and patience. Let’s remind ourselves that it surely is impossible to please everyone since there will always be people who disagree or disapprove of us. Imagine how exhausting and pointless it actually is to even try?
It usually helps me to think of my beloved dark chocolate in those moments: believe it or not, there are still people out there who don’t like dark chocolate. However, dark chocolate is not blaming itself or trying to change its taste to please others. So why should you?