Thursday, September 29, 2011

Owning Your Power: Managing Conflicts

Snippets of emails I received after the last post:

“As my boss is a vampire, what am I to do about …”
“My (family member) has no concept of boundaries …”
“What do you do when you are married to a victim?”

As I do not know all sides of the stories contained in these emails, there is no way for me to give any detailed advice or counsel.  However, it does give me an opportunity to bring up the subject of “difficult conversations,” especially as it relates to managing and guarding your power.

Conversations v Monologues
When we are angry or upset, the tendency is to Hold Forth: We pronounce, we pass out edicts, we push back … hard. And we do this before we even know what’s going on in the other person’s head and heart!
Conversation are about searching for deeper issues, defining terms, agreeing on principles for a healthy relationship, and other such areas of concern. Monologues are about proving the other person is wrong and making them pay.

Before we engage in such conversations, we will want to determine our outcomes.
Do you want to win an argument (Be Right) or discover possibilities for maintaining this relationship in a healthy manner?
Where and how do you think the breakdown occurred and what are you tentatively thinking is the best way forward for all concerned parties? I stress “tentatively” because you will want to maintain an open mind as to the nature of the breakdown and, therefore, remain flexible as to the way forward.

Sharing Your Pain
As I believe we should be ready to be wrong or to have misunderstood, I suggest we share our upsets as our experience, not as the-truth-of-the-matter.
Stay away from identifying with your upset. “I am experiencing anger”, not “I AM angry”; “I am experiencing hurt,” not “I AM hurt.” Anger and Hurt are not who you ARE! The problem with identifying with our upset is …
When I make my upset about who I am then the other person is attacking my identity, the core of who I am. This only exacerbates the breakdown, because rather than sharing my experiences, I am defending myself from a personal attack. Defensive people don’t have conversations; they have fights to the death.

Feedback is Only Information
Feedback is what you are hearing from the other person. O, sure, they may believe their perceptions are truer than true, but, until you decide whether or not this is accurate, all you are hearing is information. However, and this is important, you need to have the same mindset regarding your feedback. 
Of course, it is almost impossible to hear feedback solely as information, once you let it inside your heart: so don’t. Think of yourself as the catcher on a baseball team. You catch the ball (feedback), look at it, and ascertain whether or not it belongs to you. If not, throw it back to the pitcher! (Respectfully, please: no shots at the head!) “Thank you so much for caring enough to share your thoughts with me. However, at least at this time, I don’t believe this belongs to me.”
Why “give it back” to them? Because if you don’t they will walk away believing you agreed with their feedback. If they do this they will have certain expectations as to your future behaviors in this matter between you: expectations that won’t be realized. Obviously, this will only add to the breakdown.

Owning Your Power
Relational breakdowns are painful. The challenge is maintaining our equilibrium so as to not begin either throwing our power around in potentially harmful ways or choosing to cut our electricity off for a while.
Stay focused and stay strong, or at least as strong as possible. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” (Ken Blanchard) If it is erroneous, it is still valuable, as it is a window into the mind and heart of the person giving it. If it is factual, you get to grow in wisdom. Either way, it is win for you!
And if you discover that you are dealing with a vampire, loser or victim? Sometimes you simply walk away from the relationship. There are situations, however, where you can’t do this. You need the job or you will see this person at all family functions, as you are a blood relative! What now?
As all situations are unique, I really don’t have solutions or answers for you. I can only give you some guiding principles that may or may not be useful.

Be true to yourself. By this I mean, maintain your personal integrity. You can remain respectful and gracious, without allowing the other person to walk all over you. You can keep your distance without making a scene. You can steer the conversation toward the weather or sports or some other innocuous topic. You can ask the person about a matter that you know they will find interesting and then let them Hold Forth for the next 15 minutes. No gauntlets, no exposed veins.
Maintain your boundaries. “Let’s not go there,” is a perfectly legitimate thing to say. So is, “This is not an appropriate thing for us to be discussing here.” Waiting until later to have a private conversation where you ask them to never Do This or Say That again is preferred over mouth-to-mouth combat before spectators. This is not Thunderdome: it is the place where you have to work everyday or the family-get-together. Collateral damage only increases the potential for irreparable breaches.
Avoid the Nuclear Option. If you need to, simply walk away from the conversation. If she is embarrassed or chooses to be angry, it is her own doing, not yours. If you cannot walk away, remain silent, while maintaining your dignity
Remember that this person is still a creation of God. God loves him more than you can imagine and more than he is aware. This doesn’t mean you must like him or approve of his behavior, only that you treat him respectfully. It also means that you are not responsible for him Getting that he is a vampire. This is between him and his Creator.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guarding and Managing Your Power

One of the more debilitating things for your power may be some of the people you are hanging around. Possibly, up until now, you haven’t thought of it, but you have experienced this. These are those individuals who most always leave you feeling drained of all power.  Sometimes an individual is in a bad way, needing far more than they can give, at present. I am not writing about those people. No, my focus here is on avoiding people who are always a drain on our power.
Vampires. These are black holes that can never be applauded enough, cared for enough, loved enough, counseled enough, placated enough: even multiple apologies for past hurts are never enough. Vampires will suck the power right out of you. Their guiding principle is to use, use, use: never to give. Avoid them.
Losers. I regret the term but I can’t think of a better description. No matter what these individuals do in life, it doesn’t work. Relationships are always breaking down and breaking off, jobs are constantly being lost (through no fault of their own, of course). Nothing ever works out for good in their life. Call them unlucky if you wish, but I call them losers who wish to be losers because they keep doing the same things, exhibiting the same behaviors that have never ever worked. My belief is that there is a reason for their losing streak – a secondary pay off, if you will—that is more valuable to them then success. They want to lose, to be pitied, and even to be rejected: it’s part of their grand strategy for attention. Stop giving it to them.
Victims. There are tons of books out there on Victim-ology and how such people are annihilating our culture. These are people who, long ago, suffered a terrible injustice—sometimes real, sometimes, imagined—and insist on everyone around them paying for this injustice. It is a crown of thorns by which they define themselves and all their relationships. It is their North Star. Sure, they would never see themselves in this light but everyone around them knows this to be an accurate description.
You don’t relate to such people: you relate to the injustice they suffered. The laws of love do not apply to them, only to you. While you must be patient, kind, not easily angered, and never keep records of wrongs (I Corinthians 13), they have been emancipated from the laws of love because, after all, “I have suffered so much.”
Maybe you may wish to work with such people, if you are a counselor, a therapist or a coach. Everyone else should keep his distance or your power will drain right out of your toes.

Introverts and Extraverts
            You are a unique individual with a unique personality. Subsequently, how you manage and guard your power will be unique to you. Here, I only want to consider the differences between introverts and extraverts.
Introverts. I am an off the chart introvert. I have learned to behave in certain ways so as to be successful in the endeavors I pursue. As I want to raise money for the charities I believe in, I had to learn how to work a room full of strangers. As a corporate trainer my clients better believe I can’t wait to be with them, even if it is for 18 hours a day. I love what I do but it taxes me beyond the imagination of most extraverts.
Introverts need time alone. One psychologist told me that for every hour with people, introverts need 6 hours of down time. I am not sure this is true for all introverts but it is a fact that introverts are charged by being alone or with the closest of friends, but only friends who understand their need for quiet.
Usually, what empowers introverts is such things as listening to music, reading books, watching movies, and visiting museums … but not with strangers! Writing this, I also need to point out the temptation for introverts is to allow being alone to use them, rather than using being alone for re-charging their power.
            Being with others charges extraverts. They love groups of people. If they are alone for too long, their power begins to wane! This doesn’t mean that extraverts do not see the value of being alone; only that it is usually not how they re-charge. The temptation for extraverts is to not always be as discriminating as they need to be in the people with whom they chose for empowerment. Whereas introverts will instinctively shy away from people who overtly drain them of power, extraverts are prone to thinking that the sheer magnetism of their power will cure what ails the vampires. After awhile they go home wondering why they feel so drained. After all, “people charge me!”
Obviously, these are generalizations: lumping people into categories should always be done cautiously and with the understanding that some introverts love meeting strangers and some extraverts love being alone for days at the beach. With this caveat, look back at when you experienced the fullness of owning your power. What did you do that made this possible for you? Whatever it is, make it part of your routine. Or else!

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2011  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Owning Your Power: Brown Outs II

One of the more frequent justifications for Brown Outs that people give is, “I don’t want to anger her/upset him/hurt them.” The challenge is that, in some situations, there certainly are wise reasons for utilizing my power in a gentle fashion. We can all think of circumstances with a boss or employee, a child or a grandparent, a friend or a teacher, where throwing around all our power would not achieve our intended outcomes. However, what about those circumstances where I pull back my power because I am refusing to honor my own values, refusing to require others to respect my decisions? My experience is that, when I make such a choice, my power is not being conserved but denied.
If I do not respect my values and beliefs, why should others? “It’s okay. You can crap all over what I hold most sacred.”
If I don’t honor my own decisions by maintaining my course, why should you? “No, no, no: feel free to step right in and circumvent my choices. After all, your life and journey is far more important than mine.”
When I experience pain over what I perceive as disrespect and choose to say nothing about this, what am I communicating to myself and to others? “Go right ahead and keep on doing what you are doing, saying what you are saying. My perceptions and experience have no value whatsoever … and, anyway, I have no right to my feelings!”
I have (to me, anyway) an annoying habit of constantly saying, “Sorry,” whenever I do or say something that I think might have crossed or inconvenienced you in some fashion.  Part of this can be attributed to manners and seeking to be sensitive to others. But – b-u-t – some of it is a tacit profession that you and your welfare are far more important than my life or my Self.
In the past, if you were hurt with me, I wanted to know it so I could either explain or ask your forgiveness. I think this is a healthy response, by the way. However, the Not So Healthy response was that, if I was hurt with or angry at you … well, that was an entirely different situation, as my feeling were pretty much always irrelevant. So much for relationships based on mutual honesty and respect, eh?

What happens when, in owning your power, you choose to behave in ways that anger or otherwise hurts the feelings of one of your close buddies or a family member?
Question: Is his hurt feelings with you the litmus test for the wisdom of your choices? While you regret his hurt, you have a responsibility to live your life according to your faith, beliefs, values, etc. He doesn’t have to like it but, if he wants to maintain a healthy relationship, he will respect your choices, as you will want to respect the fact that he differs with you. Or you can pull the plug on your power, yield to his preferences for you, and live in a Brown Out.
For a very long time, I took responsibility for the emotional responses of others. If Dad was angry: MY FAULT. If you were hurt with me: I did something WRONG. It’s one thing if I set out to push my dad’s hot buttons or hurt your feelings, but simply because Dad is upset with me or you are hurt with me doesn’t necessarily mean I have done anything wrong.
Please. I am not suggesting that we blow our friends off over an upset or a breakdown. Many, many times, differences are not conflicts: they only appeared this way before we had an honest conversation. Sometimes, the friend has a valid point we will want to consider. My point here is for those whose default position is to always discount their beliefs, their values, and their boundaries, and choose to live in a Brown Out.

Stop it.

Cut it out.

Cease and desist.

Go get a shot of testosterone.

You are a unique creation of God. You are you: you are not him, her or them. Honor this you. In other words, honor your own power. People will not always like it, but you were not placed on this earth to run around pleasing everyone, while denying the person that God created you to become. Believe me, anyone worthy of being called “friend,” will respect your integrity and never ever ask you to live in a Brown Out.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2011