Sometimes disagreements can cause strong resentments and animosities. When this happens, they can end friendships, relationships, and in the most extreme scenarios, even lives.
Everyone partaking in mindfulness practice needs a good box of tools when navigating anger in real time disagreement. These tools should be versatile, and applicable to a range of relationships and situations.
Forget whatever you were trying to prove. Functioning from a truly potent mindfulness practice requires you to entirely let go of the concept of “winning” or achieving an “outcome”, and instead focus on experiencing every moment with the fullest possible awareness you can muster. Pick all weeds of agenda from your heart garden and make space for the other person there to plant their flowers instead – you may not agree, but you’ll learn something! Adjust all your organs of intuition and point them receptively in the direction of the angry party. Let the angry person in your immediate space become your new agenda.
Your argument may have been about politics or climate change – it doesn’t matter. What matters is the other person got mad and now feels threatened. Your task now is to de-escalate their anger response. You must establish a non-threatening opportunity for the other person to be heard. You have the ability to create an atmosphere that disarms the other person’s anger through exhibiting how much you actually want to hear what they are saying. This will allow contact to be re-established between you and the other.
Listen to them. Affirm that you are listening. You now have an opportunity to discover why they are angry. Listening is better than asking questions.
Try hard to see what they’re up against. See that it is their own unique relationship with anger and being denied what they feel they need most at that moment that is truly in play. Understand that your only role in the process was to act as a trigger. It is not about you.
Try not to let anything abrasive they say stick to you or cause you to get upset. Know your own limits and express concern for them, bringing it to their attention if their words become toxic, cutting, or abusive. If they begin degrading the objects of their anger with verbal abuse as some sort of coping mechanism, be mindful that you do not have to take that on. Remind them that they are not being heard when they do this. Let them know they have the power to be heard if they adjust their approach away from making derogatory comments.
If they won’t or can’t do this, be vigilant and clearly state to them they are causing damage to their relationship with you, and provide them with an opportunity to withdraw and calm themselves in solitude before continuing. Make it clear as you leave that you want to hear them, and are very interested in what they actually have to say, and will happily wait for a time when they aren’t so angry. You can never make it too clear to a person that you care about them, so remember to reaffirm this a lot. You can also never make it too clear to another person that you care about yourself and your relationship with them enough to remove yourself from opportunities where these feelings are challenged.
Tell the person that is angry that you see them for the wonderful person they are. Tell them that you really appreciate their honesty, their different perspective, and their experience of this life. You must make it clear that you do not enjoy their suffering at all. Acknowledge that their anger is valid, and that you wish them to find peace with whatever is causing them pain. Let them know they can be safe from feeling threatened in your presence. Let them know you seek to understand their experience and their perspective more deeply. Express your care and your regard for them.
A person that disagrees with you may not practice mindfulness, and therefore will have a different approach to solving conflict than you. Strive to understand what sufferings may be beneath their anger and demeanor. Strive to be patient with them. De-escalate their anger by driving home your appreciation for them. Help them put down their guard and transform your disagreement into grounds for deeper understanding of one another. Make sure you leave the door of your heart open enough for them to feel welcome in your presence.
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