For 15+ years, lined paper and spiraled notebooks have brimmed with my handwritten notes accompanied with this encircled letter “V.”
Next to the “V,” which represents “vocabulary” to me, are verbatim phrases or standalone words that individuals share in meetings, classes, events, or appear in multimedia works or presentations.
As far back as I can remember, language has been incredibly important to me. I feel its impact. At an early age, I observed how leaders were able to impact the emotional climate of an event or community in one instance and/or over time. It became clear to me that even just one carefully chosen word or phrase can impact a relationship, a group dynamic, or ultimately the outcome of a decision-making process.
The body’s Sympathetic Nervous System is a fascinating piece of this puzzle. It’s the part of us that is ready to react to danger and help us defend our well-being. Conflict triggers our body’s systemic response.
Drs. John & Julie Gottman have done a great deal of research around this–coining the term “flooding” to describe what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional hijacking.” We know the situation well. Our body temperature rises. Our cheeks may be flushed or our shoulders tense. We may breathe more shallowly. Words easily fly out of our mouths “without thinking.” Conflict affects not just our minds and emotions, but our physical selves and bodily responses.
Malcolm Gladwell touches on other aspects of Gottman’s and others’ research in his book “Blink,” elevating how we can intuitively sense–even subconsciously sense–what’s going on in a relational exchange.
The good news is that we can learn how to cope well with conflict. And no, it’s not just about coping. We can prevent conflict before it ever crops its mischievous head. We can learn how to use language and vocabulary, phrasing and sentence structure to include versus exclude–invite conversation and collaboration versus shutting it down. Just as language can be an obstacle, it can be a solution.
Some phrases I wrote down this past week:
- “Let’s be as patient as we can be” // Chosen instead of “Let’s delay as long as possible”
- “…which is a great opportunity for growth” // Chosen instead of “Which is a real problem”
- “They always deliver what they say they will deliver, though rarely on time” // Chosen instead of “They’re always late and it’s a real issue for us”
We have great opportunities everyday to learn from those around us. I learned from the three people that spoke each of those three phrases. I learned from their language choices, but also from their posture, facial expressions, and ways of delivering those words in a way that was defined by honesty and calm.
A therapist friend of mine, Tina (pictured right), recently shared with me a practical way we can respond to our Sympathetic Nervous System’s reaction of “Fight or Flight.” Three deep breaths from the diaphragm will interrupt the body’s response of this “fight or flight” or “emotional hijacking” or “flooding.” That deep breathing has other health benefits as well. Some simple tips here and here.
I think I’ll never stop taking notes with an encircled “V” next to them. I’ll never stop needing to learn new ways of communicating–discovering ways of turning a phrase to build relationships and create opportunities for deeper and more rich conversation.
And, no matter how astutely and intentionally I proactively work to prevent conflict–it will always be a part of life. I’m not afraid of it. Conflict when welcomed and treated with respect can be one of the biggest forces of change and transformation in our relationships, shared life and work.