How to change other peoples’ conflict behaviour

Question posed: How do I change the other person’s behaviour when that is what’s creating conflict?

Answer: A fast 3-step dance pattern describes a lot of conflicts.

Step one: the first person acts or speaks;
Step two: the second person (you) interprets those words or actions, and
Step three: the second person (still you) reacts based on that interpretation.

So, your question is about changing step one. Most answers to your question advise you on steps two and three because that’s where you have real control. My answer is a little different than most. 

I add a Preliminary Step that is foundational to the conflict dance improving. 

Starting at Step two does indeed build your skills for managing your reaction, and I support that as a good beginning. You may have experienced a situation of interpreting someone as being in a very bad mood, only to learn that the person had suffered a recent loss. You changed your opinion about the person’s bad mood, using a skill called perspective-taking. That’s a beginning to managing your reaction at stage two.

The foundational yet ignored Preliminary Stage

Skills deeper than managing your reactions involve thinking about how you think, both in conflict and calm. What is going on in your life and surroundings impacts how generous or stingy you are prepared to be in your perspective taking. This proposed Preliminary Step is based on research that expands your abilities, such as how to:

1. Normalize what you experience.

2. Uncover your resilience for coping with setbacks.

3. Know your mindset (watch Dr. Carol Dweck online).

4. Recognize surrounding clutter that negatively affects your brain.

5. Desist from so-called ‘multi-tasking‘ that overrides your concentration, increases stress and decreases clear thinking.

The result is that you don’t get to Step one, because the other person’s behaviour, which once would have set you off, is now something you can deal with using your advanced skills. You’ve gone deeper than perspective-taking because knowing your thinking helps you understand others.

Give thinking about thinking the attention it deserves

Human brains work in patterns that cycle: Trigger event -> stress -> fear of failure -> engage the amygdala -> shut down the prefrontal cortex -> can’t think clearly -> anxiety -> stress -> fear of failure -> and so on. Conflict thrives in this pattern. Thinking about your thinking in advance of triggering events can shift your patterns that shut down your high-level brain functions.

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