Wouldn’t it be great if cranky, grumpy, hot-tempered people took an extended, nay, permanent, vacation far, far, away?
Ahhh, such a sweet dream.
In the real world, though, there are crabby people who will launch their slings and arrows your way with hardly a thought.
You get to choose how to respond, and I encourage you to consider this possibility first:
You are not the target.
I am reposting the following piece from a couple of years ago. I hope you find the following insights to be good reminders, especially if you have read this before, and the linked posts to be useful resources, especially the one how compassion can be increased with practice.
What do ornery coworkers, angry children and irritable spouses have in common?
You as the target.
Well, at least it seems that way, especially when you feel like you could be part porcupine because of all the virtual arrows bristling from your back.
However, in most cases, you really are not the target.
What you just might be, unfortunately, is the handiest place for others to offload some of their prickly feelings.
Allow me to illustrate.
When my family and I ran a large inn, the guests—parents and children—would arrive on a Friday night after a long and often frazzling drive from the city, dumping literal and figurative baggage at the check-in desk.
Did they bring the tired and cranky? Check.
Did they carry along the stress from the work week? Right here.
How about the simmering feud with their spouse? Oh, yes, with the car as a pressure cooker, it has reached the boiling point.
We had a choice every time we faced these situations: to throw on the armor and join the fight to face a potentially unpleasant weekend all around, or to deflect the barbs and let them clatter harmlessly to the ground.
We chose deflection every time as opposed to joining the battle, offering a heartfelt smile, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and a breath of fresh mountain air.
Almost without fail, by breakfast the following morning, the family was in greatly improved spirits, their quivers emptied of weapons and filled instead with joy.
You, too, can learn the art of deflection. Here is where you start:
First, you must recognize that you feel wrongfully under attack, and understand that your instinctual fight or flight response will not get you what or where you want. (Just a note here: remember that I am not talking about the separate issue of physical or emotional abuse and battering. That is a completely different and unacceptable behavior.)
Remember it’s not about you
In general, people strike out at the nearest—and sometimes safest—target. Typically, this happens when their expectations are not met, such as during a vacation, when their status is threatened, or because they just have a low tolerance for frustration.
Nonetheless, you have gone from innocent bystander to target
You have been given an opportunity to behave in a totally counter-intuitive manner: to respond calmly with kindness and empathy. To quote Colossians 4:6 (ESV): Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
And how do you properly season your words?
Practice. Lots of practice along with a box full of great tools.
As I wrote in my free ebook, Practicing Gratitude and Discovering Joy-30 Days to a Happier You! :
Think about when you learned to read, write, and do arithmetic.
You became experienced through practice.
These once intimidating tasks became routine and almost effortless for you to accomplish.
Learning to deflect is a matter of practice as well. The more you do it, the better you become at it until it becomes your natural, default response.
Following are twelve secrets to get you rolling down a more peaceful path.
1. Practice compassion and kindness. Zen Habits has a great how-to here.
2. Change your perspective. Put yourself in other people’s shoes. What and who are they up against, what private battles are they already fighting?
3. Change your environment. Offer to move the discussion to a more neutral location, or you can excuse yourself for a short while to gather your thoughts.
4. Change your body language. Purposely physically relax your body. Let go of tension in your shoulders, uncross your arms, part your lips and hang your jaw slightly. (Did you know you can’t be angry if your jaw is hanging instead of clenched?)
5. Take deep breaths. In through the nose and out through your mouth, deep breathing will help calm your mind and also help relax your body.
6. Get curious. You can’t be curious and angry at the same time, so choose curiosity. Some great questions to use are here.
7. Become an empathic listener. Developing empathy is a tremendously useful skill to help defuse situations. Author Stephen R. Covey offers tips here.
8. Develop a sense of humor. To quote the blog Anger Management Expert: Humour is a great weapon and also a gift that can be used to help diffuse certain situations before they are allowed to escalate and people lose control of their anger. Click the link for tips.
9. Look back from the future. Take the long view, and ask how important this skirmish is in the big scheme of things. This post will walk you through the how-to of an eye-opening and awareness raising exercise.
10. Be aware of your thoughts. As the old quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi goes:
Watch your thoughts, they become words.
Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
When tempers flare, your thoughts pop out of your mouth faster than kernels of corn on a hot griddle, and tend to burn everyone in reach. (Like this? Click here to tweet!) Steps to develop awareness and control are here.
11. Memorize scripture. Stay with me here, friends. Just a few short years ago I would have dismissed this idea as one for those with far more and deeper faith than I had. Having experienced the power of this first-hand, though, I am a convert. When we memorize scripture, we place the message into our hearts to draw upon in times of need. If scripture holds no meaning for you, then I would recommend finding teachings that do resonate, and memorize those to lean on.
12. Pray. For guidance, for the right words, for understanding and responding with grace, forgiveness, empathy and love. If you prefer to meditate, do that instead.
I truly believe the prevailing desire for most folks is to diffuse and deflect rather than return fire. Not only will you experience stronger and more satisfying relationships, but you will also be modeling tremendously powerful and positive behavior to your children. Hats off to you for working towards a more peaceful environment in your life!
Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate. ~Albert Schweitzer
Questions: What do you find is the most difficult part about deflecting rather than attacking in response? Please share so that we can help and support each other, and thanks so much for coming by!