About Me

Meredith Richardson, Esq., is a conflict management specialist.  She works as a Mediator, Facilitator, Trainer, and Conflict Coach in Maine and New Hampshire.  Follow her on facebook as Meredith Mediates: http://www.facebook.com/MeredithMediates.  To receive monthly tips on conflict and upcoming events and retreats, email her at meredithmediates@aol.com.

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9 Ways To Be Mindful In Conflict

Mindfulness has become the new buzz word.  People are engaging in mindfulness, in mindful eating, mindful meditation, and more.  My challenge for you is to be mindful in conflict.

First, what is mindfulness?  Google defines it as:  “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

So, how can you apply it to conflict?  Here are 9 tips on being mindful in conflict:

  1. 1.       Focus on the present moment.  When in conflict, some people want to dredge up all of the past problems that have ever been.  Focus just on the one problem at this instant.
  2. 2.       Focus on the present moment.  When in conflict, some people want to jump ahead.  “If you do that, then I’m going to do this, and this, and THIS!”  Focus on just the one problem at this instant.  Don’t jump ahead.
  3. 3.       When your feelings bubble up, calmly acknowledge and accept them.  Ride them out.  Let them pass.  Let them be a part of the conversation without taking over the conversation.  Take a break if you need to.
  4. 4.       When judgmental thoughts intrude, such as, “He’s a jerk!”  “What an idiot!” calmly acknowledge and accept them but don’t invest in them.  These thoughts signify that you have been triggered and are in fight mode.  That is all that these thoughts signify.  Bring yourself back to mindfulness.  Take a break if you need to.
  5. 5.       When thoughts intrude such as, “I can’t take it!”  “I have to get away!” calmly acknowledge and accept them but don’t invest in them.  These thoughts signify that you have been triggered and are in flight mode.  That is all these thoughts signify.  Take a break and bring yourself back to mindfulness.
  6. 6.       When you feel your body reacting – your muscles tensing, your face flushing, your fists clenching, your legs twitching, calmly acknowledge and accept that this is happening.  If your fists are clenching, you are reacting in fight mode.  If your leg is twitching, you are reacting in flight mode.  Bring yourself back to mindfulness, back to the present moment.  Take a break if you need to.
  7. 7.       Now, be mindful of what is happening for the other person in the conflict.  What do you observe in terms of bodily sensations in that person?  Does that person appear to be in fight, flight, or freeze?  How could you help that person out of that reactive state? 
  8. 8.       What do you hear from the other person in terms of thoughts?  Does the person sound like s/he is in fight, flight, or freeze?  What could you say to help the person out of that reactive state?
  9. 9.       What do you see in terms of facial expressions in the other person? What feelings does the person appear to be experiencing?  Is there anything you can do to help the person navigate those emotions?

When we are truly mindful in conflict, we are best able to see all the options available to us and are best able to navigate the conflict successfully.  We still experience emotions, but they don’t drive us to do or say things we might later regret.  We still experience reactions in our body, and we have the ability to slow things down and figure out why we are being triggered in this fashion.  We open ourselves to fully understanding what is happening for both ourselves and for others involved in the process with us.  

Is it easy?  No.  Like meditating, it takes practice.  It’s hard in the beginning and it gets easier over time.  With certain people, it will be harder than with others.  You will think you have it mastered, and then there will be a situation or a person that will be particularly triggering and you will feel like you are back at square one.  It’s OK.  Conflict isn’t easy, and neither is mindfulness.

Just keep practicing.


Whose Fault Is It?

When you are in conflict with someone, do you internalize the blame for the conflict?  Here are some things that you'll find yourself saying to yourself if you are internalizing blame:  

  • It's my fault.  
  • I should have ________________.  
  • I should not have done _________________.  
  • I should have known better.   

On the other hand, when in conflict with someone, do you externalize the blame for the conflict?  Here are some things that you'll find yourself saying to yourself (and others) if you are externalizing blame: 

  • It's his fault.
  • He started it.
  • If she hadn't _______________ and made me angry, then I wouldn't have ________________.
  • She's a _________________ (insert pejorative explative here).

Some of us try to take control over conflict by controlling our own behaviors.  If we can only find the perfect behavior, we will be conflict free for life!  It sounds more rational when you say it in your own head than when you read it here.  

You may be able to avoid a lot of conflict with others by being a kind and good person.  No matter how kind and good you are, though, you may still run into conflict.  It just happens sometimes.  The Dalai Lama is a pretty wonderful human being and he can't return to his home country.  The Pope is equally wonderful and he is creating all kinds of controversy with those more conservative than he is.  If the Pope and the Dalai Lama can have conflict in their lives, you and I can certainly have conflict in ours.

And if you don't speak up for yourself when you need to, you may find yourself not feeling very well.  You can get headaches and stomach aches.  You can overindulge in a variety of substances, including food, in an effort to stuff all those feelings.

Some of us try to take control over conflict by trying to control the behaviors of others.  If only they would behave better, we would be conflict free for life!  Again, I'm hoping, it sounds more rational in your own head than when you read it here.

You may be able to control some situations by looking to control the behaviors of others.  The downside comes when you find that people don't want to be around you or they just don't want to show themselves fully to you.  They tiptoe on eggshells around you.  You may have achieved control, but it has cost you a great deal in terms of human relationships.

If you are busy trying to control others, you may also find that you don't feel too well.  You may find your blood pressure rising, your head aching, and your stomach bothering you as well.  

What would happen if you stopped looking to assign blame in the conflict?  What if you put blame on a shelf somewhere for a moment and just looked at the facts?  How did you get to where you are today?  And, given where you are today, what can you do about it?

With a person who internalizes blame for conflict, the last thing that person needs to hear is that it is that person's fault.  That person already believes that it is her fault.  She needs to be reassured, to know that conflict is normal and that she is not to blame for it.

With a person who externalizes blame for conflict, the last thing that person wants to hear is that it is that person's fault.  This person also needs to be reassured that conflict is normal.  The difference is that this person needs to understand that others are not to blame for it.

In the majority of conflict, we each play a part.  By focusing on fault, on blaming and shaming, we miss the bigger picture.  We miss seeing ourselves and others as fully integrated human beings.  We miss the opportunity to create the best future for ourselves going forward.

Ask yourselves:  How did we get to where we are today?  Given where we are today, what can we do about it?




Moving Through Change At Different Speeds

My husband and I process change in different ways.

I am, in many instances, an early onset change adopter.  I love change.  I love to learn from it.  I enjoy stepping into the chaos and finding my way to navigate through it.

My husband, on the other hand, hates change.  He backs into it, kicking and screaming.  He likes routine.  He will always choose the devil he knows over the devil he does not know.

We are currently in the process of moving.  We have sold our condo, moved to an apartment, and are looking for our next home to own.  This change is a big one and has triggered many conversations about how we process change.

As the early onset adopter of change, I have had to abandon my timetable.  I have found a vast number of potential options for us, none of which have been acceptable to my husband.  There is a lot that, for me, can be good enough.

As the person who hates change, he has had to abandon his timetable.  Things have happened very quickly as far as he is concerned.  He has found us a couple of options.  Each seems tied to the past in some fashion - there is something about each of the places that is a link to a devil we know, rather than one we do not, and I have nixed each one.

When you are in a relationship and processing change at different speeds, it can be very challenging.  You need to keep the lines of communication open.  You will likely each need to abandon your view of how it should happen, and instead focus on how it can happen.  How can you move forward as a couple through the change?  

If you are the earlier adopter of change,  what can you do to assuage the fears of the other person around change?  Do you even know what those fears are?  Have you asked how you can help with them?

If you are the person who is resistant to change, what can you do to take one small step forward?  Just one step.  And then another.  Your partner will want to be assured that you can move through this change, and may have some fears that you will become stuck somewhere in the process.  What can you do to assuage your partner's fears in that regard?



How to Navigate Conflict as a Human, Not as a Reptile

On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, I will be presenting, "How to Navigate Conflict as a Human, Not as a Reptile," to the Human Resources Association of Southern Maine.  Come join me!  Click here to register.


Why Don't Rational People Behave Rationally?


We like to believe that we are rational beings who make rational decisions.  Sometimes, we are.  And sometimes, we are not.

We each have our own beliefs about how the world works and how we function in it.  When we are faced with information that contradicts our beliefs, it can be almost impossible to remain open to this new information.  Our brain shuts down, doing the equivalent of, "La, la, la, can't hear you," until this disquieting information goes away.  In the alternative, we may listen only to the extent necessary to retrieve information from our memory to refute everything that is being said.  All of this can make it quite difficult to have a constructive, productive disagreement with someone else.  

The problem is two-fold:

1. Your brain loves to put things into categories.  Once something is neatly categorized, once a decision has been made, your brain can relax. It no longer has to think about this topic.  This topic can now be handled on autopilot.

2. Once your brain has made a decision about something, it is very invested in that being the correct decision.  The time to weigh all the evidence was before the decision was made.  After the decision has been made, it is, of course, the correct decision, because your brain only makes correct decisions. Your brain will actively seek out support for its decision.  It will also discredit, minimize, and ignore information that would go against its decision.

So, what can you do?

1. Wait to make a decision until you have as many facts as possible.  The longer you wait, the longer your brain remains open to all possibilities.  Talk about the situation with a wide variety of people.  Abraham Lincoln didn't surrounded himself with yes men.  He actively sought advice from people who had been his staunch opponents.  When you're faced with a tough decision, don't just talk to the people you know will agree with you or say what you want to hear.

2. Don't let the conversation turn ugly.  It turns out that venting in anger actually hurts more than it helps. When you treat someone badly, your brain must justify why it was necessary to do so.  The focus then turns to demonizing the other person so that the only logical response would be to react as your brain did.  If the conversation is about to get ugly, take a break. 

3. Take some time, privately, to put yourself in the other person's shoes.  Think about the disagreement only from the perspective of the other person.  If you were that person, why would you hold that belief?  Your brain will try to tell you that it's only because the other person is a jerk or a stupid jerk or a stupid, biased jerk.  You need to go deeper than that.  What are the cares and concerns for the other person?  What are the other person's core beliefs?  How are they shaping that person's reaction?

4. We are tribal.  Find a way to be a part of the other person's tribe.   

You can be part of the same tribe based on gender, religious beliefs, political affiliations, family, similar interests, and so much more.  Once you are part of the same tribe, you get extra bonus points just by being part of the tribe.  And, you give extra bonus points to other tribe members as well.

Research has shown that Democrats will support a restrictive welfare policy if they believe it to be from the Democratic Party (even if it looks like a stereotypical Republican policy).  The same is true in reverse:  Republicans will support a generous welfare policy if they believe it to be from the Republican Party (and not the Democrats).  

If you make this person part of your tribe, not only is the other person going to be more receptive to what you are saying, you will also be more receptive to what the other person has to say.

All of this will help you to be what your brain already knows you are -- a rational human being who makes rational, correct decisions based upon the information at hand, and who, when presented with new information, rationally evaluates it, and forms new, correct decisions based on all of the information at hand.  One can hope, anyway. ;-)