Have you ever noticed how you can have a really pleasant, enjoyable conversation with a person one day, and then the next day get into a really intense, highly emotional, negative conversation with the person the next day?
How is that possible? The same two people are talking. How can it go from very pleasant one time to very unpleasant the next time?
The key is what is happening below the surface. If it was just the surface of the water both times, then you would expect to have the same interaction. However, it’s what is happening below that impacts the interaction. If you are bringing exhaustion, stress, frustration, anger, worry, or fear about something into an interaction with another person, then eventually it’s going to make its way to the surface. And when it does the conversation can turn ugly even without you wanting it to.
Or you might be bringing negative judgments or unrealistic expectations of the other person into the conversation, and then those will impact the interaction.
It’s not necessarily anything the other person is saying or doing that caused the conversation to get so ugly. It could very well be what is happening inside of you.
Dr. Barbara Frederickson wrote a tremendous book called, Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life. I really encourage you to read at least Chapters 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, and 11. She provides a wide array of practical ways to reset your mindset to a positive attitude. Here are five of my favorite insights:
Let go of gratuitous negativity and stop ruminating
I think this is a home run of an idea. I never thought of being negative as being gratuitous, but as soon as I read that it hit home with me. Sometimes I can hang on to a negative thought about a situation or another person like I was savoring a fine meal. I bring it back up to a level of conscious awareness several times a week. Dr. Frederickson showed me how incredibly unhealthy that is for any of us to do. The key is to stop ruminating. Ruminating is when we go over and over our negative thoughts and feelings and bring them to a fever pitch. Now when I’m about ready to experience gratuitous negativity, I say to myself, “Stop ruminating.” That one tip alone has allowed me to step into conversations with a much healthier mindset.
Create a mental list
If you get emotionally worked up, step back and just focus on the things you appreciate about the person. If you can zero in on three things the person does you are grateful for, then you can increase your chances of having a good conversation.
Look back with pride
This was another one where Dr. Frederickson caught me off guard. Usually, I’ve heard people talk about avoiding self-pride, but she made a great case for actively being proud of our past. Too often we beat ourselves up over the 1 percent of our life’s decisions and behaviors that we are not proud of rather than cherishing the person we were when we made 99% of our decisions and actions. If we beat ourselves up, then we might very well emotionally beat up the other person in a conversation without even realizing it. If we look back at our lives and cherish the person we were at that time, then perhaps we will be more likely to cherish the person we are talking with now.
Smile and have a light touch
Think of a great conversation you had with another person. My hunch is you both probably smiled a lot and treated each other with respect. There might have been some good-natured kidding and some genuine laughter. Both people walked away from the conversation feeling good about themselves. Notice I didn’t even mention the content of the conversation, but rather only described the interaction: smiling, laughter, a nice tone and pace. No judgments, no expectations, no heavy negative emotions.
Spend time in nature
Nature brings its own vocabulary and emotions to the table. Going for a walk on a pleasant day is a simple but powerful way to allow our negative emotions to dissipate. We can then walk into conversations with a degree of calmness that we won’t have if we’ve worked ourselves to a state of exhaustion and have been ruminating for several hours.