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I am an inquisitive person. I think it is important to ask why, because I believe knowing and understanding why things and people act and behave the way they do furthers learning of the world around you. When you ask the question why, it allows you to hear the facts, draw your conclusions and apply the synthesized information into other areas of your life.
Merriam-Webster defines self-reflection as “careful thought about your own behavior and beliefs”. Self-Reflection is taking a step back from yourself and looking inward. I had been a self-reflector even before I knew there was a term for what I was doing. I have always been curious as to why I behaved or thought a certain way. I believe many people struggle with self-reflection because it is scary to admit our shortcomings. Recognizing our flaws, makes them real for us and many of us shy away from self-reflection. I am not one to shy away. I think self-reflection is essential in my life to keep myself in check.
2012 was not my best. I gained thirty pounds; I was in a different graduate school program that I did not want to be in, and my self-esteem was low. I was unhappy and negative. I had internal conflict which impacted my attitude, reactions and behaviors with others. I started asking why I felt this way through journaling. It was the most therapeutic part of my transformation process. Journaling allowed me to express and put on paper what I was thinking and feeling. I analyzed why I pursued my Masters in the first place? Why I had gained thirty pounds? Why I felt envious of my friends? As a result of journaling and self-reflection, I was able to work through these internal conflicts and I concluded it was time for a change.
I applied and enrolled into a different graduate program, started working out and eating better, and slowly my life began to change. I know journaling is not for everyone, but it allowed me to look inward and analyze myself and my behavior. I wrote when I was angry, when I was happy, when I was sad, and I began to take inventory of how I responded in those situations; and then I started to brainstorm how I could do better.
Think about these questions as it pertains to the internal conflict you are experiencing.
#1 – Be honest.
- What are you not speaking aloud that you know to be the truth of the situation you find yourself experiencing?
- What is it you are embellishing in your story to others?
#2 – Be vulnerable.
- What emotions are you experiencing right now?
- What is causing you to feel that emotion?
- For example: When you fought with your spouse over not taking the trash out, were you angry about that or were you taking your frustration from work out on him?
#3 – Be tough.
- How did I contribute to this dispute?
- What could I have done differently?
- What will I work on to prepare for next situation I encounter?
I am my harshest critic and asking myself these questions allows me to take responsibility, look at myself from another perspective, critique my behavior, and generate solutions to do better next time.
I believe self-reflection is necessary for anyone looking to address his or her internal conflict. I often say that no one can ever tell me something about myself that I haven’t already thought. My goal in life is to be the best version of myself and self-reflection is crucial to achieve success. I challenge anyone with this common purpose to do the same and find the power of self-reflection.
Abigail Clark- M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
The book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Shelia Heen is one of my favorites. I just re-read the chapter where the authors speak of identity, and they cite three identities that a person worries about in a tough conversation, “Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?” Each question can provoke defensiveness that can instigate conflict.
These three points affect how you and I see ourselves as a people. I will admit if I am in a disagreement and I feel my intelligence, my feelings towards someone or something, or my choices and beliefs are in question, I feel a need to get defensive. I had an epiphany when I first started learning about conflict, and I realized most of the arguments I had with others escalated because of personal identity battles with which I was struggling.
My second-grade teacher called me stupid in front of my class and unfortunately, it was not a onetime occurrence. I spent most of my life believing I was stupid and using this experience as a crutch. I reflected on this experience, and I determined that I gave my second-grade teacher’s comment power by believing it and therefore, I did myself a disservice because I could have achieved a lot more. I began noticing that every time someone called something I said into question, I felt like they were inquiring my competency, and I would get defensive.
When you get defensive what happens?
- You stop listening. The moment you feel defensive you automatically jump into fight mode, thinking of your next comeback.
- You may say things you do not mean, make accusations, and draw conclusions about something that was not mentioned. I call this the groundhog effect. When Groundhogs feel trapped, they attack. Humans do the same thing in an argument when you feel stuck you get defensive, and you attack.
- You make a resolution more difficult. If you get defensive you stop listening, then the person you are disputing with does not feel heard or acknowledged. If you attack, say things you don’t mean, make accusations, or draw conclusions about the unsaid, you then have to work through the hurt feelings that arose between you and the other person.
Identity is something humans hold dear. Defensiveness occurs when we see ourselves a certain way, and it is called into question or criticized. There are some cases that call for defensiveness when people are outwardly mean and deliberately trying to hurt your feelings. I am not discussing these particular incidents; I am referring to our sensitive hot spots that provoke defensiveness when it is not necessary.
When someone critiques or questions something I say, I actively try to stop my conscience from thinking they are calling me incompetent. I also do the following things:
- Listen and hear out what the person is saying. In the past I would hear a critique and stop listening. Now I listen to the whole statement before I react.
- Recognize that what you hear i.e. tones, sarcasm, etc. may not be intentional, therefore you must also clarify. I have said to my fiancé on numerous occasions, “When you said [fill in the blank] did you mean it sarcastically?” Most of the time, what I am hearing is not what he intended, or he will admit frustration with something else and that is why he had a tone or was sarcastic.
- Acknowledge what provokes you to get defensive. You are the only person that can know your triggers and therefore, when pushed you are responsible for how those situations are handled.
- Learn to take constructive criticism. If you want to get better in life, you must be able to take criticism because that is the only way to get better. Recognize not everyone is out to get you and most want to see you succeed.
I challenge each person to look inward and find out what identity pinpoints provokes defensiveness; awareness is the first step towards constructive change.
Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
I come from an extended family that argues and engages conflict frequently. Recently, I began mapping out the seating chart for my upcoming wedding, and I ran into several placement issues due to pending conflicts between different members of my extended family. I would like to believe that the members of my family would put on a happy face just for the occasion, but it is also a risk I am not willing to take. Now I am playing seating chart Jenga, in hopes that my strategically placed tables won’t collapse into a verbal sparring match between the members of my family. When I began at the University of Baltimore’s negotiation and conflict management program in the spring of 2013, I spent a lot of time analyzing my family and their clashes with one another throughout my time at the University of Baltimore. I have deduced one important point that often stands in the way of them reaching a resolution, an apology. Now just to be clear, my family is not the only group of people that struggle to achieve resolution due to a lack of apology. Most people that vent to me about their disagreements encounter this issue as well. The truth is most people struggle with saying I’m sorry, but why?
Many people may feel that saying I’m sorry is an admission of wrongdoing or defeat. We are headstrong about our values and beliefs, if someone is challenging us and offends us; we may see ourselves as the victim. We believe WE deserve the apology instead of being the one to give it. Most of us fail to realize the power a sincere apology can have on another person. I can remember at the University of Baltimore, my professors taught us that many arguments would see resolutions if one or both parties would just say sorry. Some situations where conflicts are deep rooted, one sincere apology may not be enough, but it has the potential to be a building block to moving in the right direction.
How can a person give a sincere apology?
1. Recognize that by saying you’re sorry you are not admitting defeat or conceding that you did something wrong entirely. It is important to remember that all parties in every conflict contribute in some form. Perhaps you did not initiate the fight first, but once you got angry, you made hurtful remarks, which further escalated the disagreement. Apologize for your contribution.
2. Leave out the “but” in your apologies. I have had apologies said to me in the past that start off well then once they say I’m sorry, they follow it with “but I reacted this way because you did [fill in the blank].” The apology loses all sincerity once a person tacks on what they believe to be a justifiable reason for engaging in their bad behavior. Apologize but leave off any excuse for why you said or behaved the way you did.
3. Acknowledge their feelings. When someone has upset us, we are not typically looking for just an “I’m sorry”; we want our feelings recognized. We need to know that the other person is aware of what has upset us and that they are not just saying words to dismiss the conflict.
I often wonder if my family members would have sincerely apologized at the start of several of their feuds if they would have a resolution now? My hope is that at my wedding all my family members can come together and be civil, but if any arguments were to break out, fortunately, I will know how to handle them!
If you want to know hear more about Apologies and Forgiveness check out these podcasts:
Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management
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