One of the greatest gifts good mediators bring to the conflict resolution table is a non-anxious presence, an inner calm in the face of difficulty. And it’s one of those tools in the mediator’s toolkit that you can adopt for yourself.
Mediators learn how to bring peace into the room with a non-anxious presence by dealing with our own “conflict stuff,” that stuff that has no business rearing its head during other people’s difficult conversations. And we learn how to find and tap into that inner calm because we see its transformative power.
You can learn it, too.
How a non-anxious presence helps you resolve conflict better
A non-anxious presence helps mediators in the following ways, and it’ll help you do the same:
- Stay clear-headed when the conversation enters difficult stages. Anxiety sidetracks you and brings you completely inside your own head. To resolve conflict well, you need to be able to listen for the opportunities presented during the conversation and if you’re inwardly focus, you’ll miss too many of them.
- Access your good skills when you need them most. I think most people already have many of the skills needed to navigate conflict well. So you probably don’t need more ore better conflict resolution skills, you need to prevent your own anxieties from disabling your access to them.
- Preserve a sense of reasonable hope that will help you navigate the conflict more successfully. This isn’t about being Pollyannaish, but about orienting yourself toward possibility instead of doom.
- Stay centered. When you can keep your balance during a conversation you avoid some of the destructive habits (extreme diagnosis, harsh judgment of self or other, run-away anger, etc.) that make conversations more difficult.
3 strategies for cultivating a non-anxious presence
Cultivating a non-anxious presence is learnable. I’ve taught hundreds of mediators and people like you how. It takes a dose of commitment, a few tried-and-true habits of mind, and practice. Here are my three favorites habits for growing your own non-anxious presence:
- Be here now. This is about taking it one step at a time instead of running ahead and filling your mind with expectations that it has no place creating yet. Whenever you find yourself ahead of the conversation, pause, breathe, and bring yourself back to the present. Don’t berate yourself, just bring yourself back.
- Make peace with the groan zone. The groan zone is the place where the conversation is most difficult and may feel overwhelming or hopeless. Too many people walk away at this point. But use the mediator’s secret here – sticking it out through the groan zone is often the way to crack a difficult conversation’s tough nut. Whenever you notice yourself experiencing a “get me outta here!” moment, pause and remind yourself this is where the greatest opportunities lie.
- Stop catastrophizing. I’ve been coaching people in difficult conversations for a very long time, and it’s the rare conversation that goes as badly as the scenarios you make up in your mind beforehand. Don’t feed your fear by allowing it to run away with you. When you notice yourself catastrophizing (a particularly insidious form of expectation-building), neutralize your runaway thoughts with these two questions.
What additional tips can you offer for cultivating a non-anxious presence during difficult conversations?