“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.”
— William Ellery Channing
I’m not the type to get fevers. Ever. As I looked at the thermometer reading, 101.4ºF, I knew it was Covid19.
It was a Saturday afternoon in February 2021 when I found myself slumped down on my couch, asking my wife, Yvette, for a thermometer.
I got scared. So did Yvette.
Staring at me intensely, she asked, “What are you going to do to protect me?”
I was sick. I couldn’t think. Fear and fever were gripping me.
Even though most of us know that nothing is certain in life, we still want certainty. In fact, our brains (specifically, the amygdala) send signals convincing us that if we don’t have certainty, we might die.
“Options… we need options,” I said, searching for a way to resolve this tension, decrease my anger, and shift my attention to recovering.
As I felt my anger rise, so did my temperature. Then, just a few minutes into this tension-filled conversation, my sweat glands released, and I threw off my jacket.
My fever broke.
…and so did my spirit.
Overwhelmed and unable to think rationally, I cried out, “This is the hardest conversation I’ve ever had with you.”
The Time Out
In a split of a second, I imagined how much easier this conversation might have been if we had discussed a plan for such a situation when we were both thinking rationally. If only life was packaged so neatly.
Unable to come to a sensible conclusion sitting across from each other on that frigid February day, we pushed the pause button, kept some distance the rest of the evening, and sought our resolution the next morning.
[Side note: Yes, “our” resolution. Plenty of people had their opinions on what they thought was the right thing for us to do. Yet, they are not living our story. We are.]
Even though I knew fear had gripped Yvette the day before, I still had a hard time accepting her humanity. With breakfast hot and emotions still palpable, I wondered how we were going to get to the other side of this difficult situation, better for it.
Honestly, I didn’t know. My spirits were still crushed from intense feelings of abandonment in that moment on the couch.
I wanted her to be superhuman… to be without her own vulnerabilities and fears.
“Help me understand what you need, given our circumstance?” I asked, still struggling to keep emotions calm.
“I don’t know,” she said, “This thing is so confusing.”
All I could do is acknowledge and nod in agreement…
This virus is confusing, and so are the fears associated with it.
Wanting to just find a respectable resolution to help Yvette feel safe, and rid us of this discomfort, I considered avoiding the hardest part of this experience: the feelings of abandonment.
“I’m sorry,” Yvette finally said, “I can see why it was so painful for you that I wasn’t able to be there for you yesterday.”
Feelings and failures are not only a part of being human, they’re an essential ingredient to increasing safety and trust in relationships: at home and in the office.
Through this experience, I learned on a deep level that part of being human means there will be fear. Everyone experiences fear, and everyone deals with it in their own ways. Thankfully, fear gives rise to courage, which allows relationships to take deeper root.
The only way to come out the other side of conflict stronger is by going through (experiencing) the discomfort. No discomfort, no growth.
Forgiveness came easy that morning, as I thought about the zillion other times Yvette has been able to support and encourage me through difficult times and all the times fear had gotten in the way of my being there for her.
Being there for others can be tricky when fear is so strongly activated inside of us. It’s easy to give into fear, jump ship, and abandon the difficult parts of being in relationship. Yet, relationships are the fiber with which great things are accomplished. They bring great joy, and immense frustration. They help us to see and experience our inherent greatness, while also challenging us to grow out of our protective armor.
When we allow difficult conversations to strengthen our curiosity, we free ourselves to experience fear without being consumed by it.
So, when you find yourself in a difficult conversation, see if you can pause long enough to gain some awareness around what’s happening; for you and for them. Let your awareness lead to your curiosity as you explore the true gift of conflict; increased compassion and depth in relationship.
The following are six practical steps to navigating difficult conversations. Remember to CENTER:
“Storms make trees take deeper root.” – Dolly Parton
Constructive conflict helps teams make high-stakes decisions under considerable uncertainty and move quickly in the face of intense pressure—essential capacities in today’s fast-paced markets.
Don’t let the momentary discomfort of fear destroy the vitality of your relationships, especially not the one you have with yourself. Choose to get curious, ask good questions, and courageously share in the struggle (vulnerabilities) of being human. Accept their humanity; embrace your own. Each time you choose to center in the midst of conflict, you strengthen yourself, and consequently all of your relationships.
Here’s to Your Greatness,
Misti Burmeister has been solving people problems and empowering leaders for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://www.MistiBurmeister.com