Managing Thoughts About Ourselves


Last weeks piece was about Managing Thoughts About Others and therefore it’s not big a leap to consider the importance of Managing Thought About Ourselves. Arguably what we think about ourselves in relation to difficult conversations might be considered as the most crucial aspect of our ten-week journey into Holding Difficult Conversations – what we say to ourselves, about ourselves, may be the key to unlocking the skills needed for successful difficult conversations.

We Are Our Thoughts

If we ask ourselves what we feel about conflict the response may telling. We might reply with “the whole thing makes me nervous”, “frankly I’d rather walk away than have a row”, “I don’t let anyone walk over me”. These indications are either describing our responses to difficult conversations or, in the last example, our defence from the impact of facing upsetting situations.

The suggestion that “we are our thoughts” infers that whilst our answer to that question are descriptions of our responses to conflict, they may also have an impact on how we guide ourselves when facing such situations. If we were to ask mediators, warzone arbitrators and maybe police officers facing many a Friday night fracas, we are likely to get answers like “well I keep calm and focused”, “I remember that isn’t about me and try to listen”. What we say to ourselves may be crucial to help us remain resourceful when up against it. When conflict arises saying to yourself, “well this isn’t nice but I can handle it”, “I am someone who is strong enough to keep listening, even when people are being horrible” may be one of the small things that keeps us present and listening.

On a side note, what people say about their attitudes towards conflict may sometimes be interpreted differently. Some years ago I was facilitating a large group in an organisation that was experiencing considerable change and people were very cross. I was assisted in running these events by a young man from the HR department who was, coincidentally, training to be a priest. In the rather intimidating introductory session a female group member fixed me with a steely stare and proclaimed “I think you’ll find that I don’t suffer fools gladly”. Trying my best not to look unshaken I smiled and nodded and continued with the session. My supportive co-worker for the day sidled up to me whilst the group were busy with the exercise and said, drily “I sometimes find that when people say that, they really mean…I’m rude.” 

I chuckle about that to this day.

Our Background and Presuppositions About Ourselves

We bring to conflictual situations notions about ourselves, who we are, what we are like as people and ideas of how conflict should be handled. Our childhood experiences of difference of opinion may have taught us that conflict is scary and unsafe, we may have seen adults being out of control and damaging those around us. In many cultures men are socialised to associate disagreement with violence and may have internalised ideas of “not backing down” or compromise as unmanly, a sign of weakness.

None of this needs to get in the way of being able to connect with others whom we disagree with although it can be useful to recognise when we are operating on stimulus which may be historical. It’s useful just to notice the sensations we experience. Marshall Rosenberg, who invented Non-Violent Communication – of which more in later weeks – described the kind of angry responses to others, whether internal or external, as being like “jackal” chatter. When asked what to do when we experience that kind of angry monologue in ourselves, replied that we should just notice it, suggesting that we “enjoy the jackal show”. He didn’t mean that this chatter was entertaining, but that we should watch the jackals come and go and not fight them.

Let’s Stop Being So Hard on Ourselves

Adults are very much invested in being competent. We like to feel on top of our world and competent in our day-to-day life. With so many folks worried about difficult conversations, it can’t be surprising that there is a great deal of shame around such challenging interactions.

I’m going to suggest that we give ourselves a break. It’s good to reflect on the convenient belief from last week – “WE too are doing the best we can with the resources available to us”. When we hear ourselves admonish the way we have managed such conflict, let’s not be too hard.

Most people would do anything than have a difficult conversations – even by attending this course you are at the cutting edge. Let’s celebrate that!

Reflective Exercise

  1. Notice what happens in your body when in conflict. Write down what happens to your body, what thoughts come into your head and any feelings that you’re able to name. This is just information
  2. Reflect on what you say to yourself about being conflict. Change the script a little. “I am confident when the conversations gets heated” or “I am pretty good at explaining things to angry people”.
  3. Once again lets go with “I am doing the best I can with the resources I have available to me”


Phil Jones March 2017


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