March 18, 2019

Three Mindful Practices for Managing Challenging Relationships

by Em Life Teacher Ninette Hupp

Each of us have our own preferences, personalities and perspectives. In relationships with people who share similar characteristics, interactions often flow smoothly. When differences exist, exchanges can be more taxing and frustrating. We can become more rigid in our positions; I’m right and you’re wrong…end of story.

These more challenging relationships, whether personal or professional, have more friction and feel more contentious. They often result in elevated emotions, depleted resources, and lower tolerance levels. When our anxiety and anger are amped, we may lose connection with ourselves and can mindlessly fling out hurtful judgments. We feel like we have no options and expect the same old outcomes. We view the relationship as adversarial, focusing only on our differences and forgetting we might share common interests and/or concerns.

Mindfulness can foster possibility in these situations. Here’s an example:

You and a colleague need to present a proposal for how best to measure customer service. Your colleague relies on data, “The numbers don’t lie!” You rely on first-hand accounts, “The numbers don’t provide the context!” You both dread meeting because no progress occurs. You’re at crunch time; the presentation is next week.

With blood boiling and anger skyrocketing, you realize that you’ve got to get a grip before this afternoon’s meeting. You decide to take a 15-minute walk outside. While walking, you feel your breath flowing more freely, your thoughts slowing a bit, and the intensity of your emotions subsiding.

Back at your desk, you remember you have a shared objective with your colleague — delivering an outstanding proposal! You feel your breath, body and thoughts soften. You realize that including both the quantitative and the qualitative components in the proposal is the best approach. Maybe that’s why we were both assigned to this proposal? Our boss knows how passionate each of us are about customer service and our own approach to measuring it. Holy cow have we wasted tons of time and energy creating and fighting an imaginary battle!?

This example illustrates the benefits of three mindfulness practices:

  1. Grounding Ourselves

How many times do we find ourselves carried away by thoughts and emotions from the past or an imagined future? By focusing attention on the support inherent in the body and nature, we appreciate being grounded in this moment. Purposefully reconnecting with the sensations of the breath as it nourishes and releases, we’re reminded that we are living, resourceful beings by design.

This helps us not take things so personally. By grounding ourselves before and during interactions, we help the other person do the same.

  1. Pacing & Pausing

Interactions can quickly spiral out of control. Questions or comments seem to fly back and forth at jet speed. But what if we chose to pause instead of speak? What if we were to observe what the potentially escalating reply would be without blurting it out? Maybe take a moment to ask ourselves a few, simple yes or no questions about the unspoken words — is this really true? kind? helpful? If not, choosing not to say it.

  1. Allowing Silence & Reflection

Allowing silence in a conversation can be uncomfortable. There’s often an urge to fill the space in an attempt to decrease the feeling of discomfort. But what if we allow the silence?  Use it to allow a self-check-in:

  • What is present inside of me right now (in my mind, body, emotions, urges)?
  • Am I listening to understand the other person’s thoughts, or am I just waiting for the other person to stop talking so I can express my thoughts?
  • What am I doing that might be increasing the conflict?
  • Is this really an ‘either/or situation’ or is there room for an “and’?

These three practices can flow into each other or stand alone. They support our own wellbeing, that of the other person, and our relationship. We’re able to increase our awareness, resources, and choices by using them before, during and after difficult interactions.

Engaging inthese practices, one at a time, in pleasant exchanges helps them become habits. We may notice that these interactions become more meaningful and rewarding. After all, feeling seen and heard is what builds connection.

Mindfulness helps us stay centered and gain clarity. Then we can be less reactionary, particularly when things feel out of our control. Whether it’s in a challenging relationship with a family member, colleague or friend, mindfully approaching these moments can assist in reducing anxiety or frustration. eM Life is here to help. Find expert instructors, a community of support and a new way to experience life.

About the Author

Ninette Hupp (LMSW), has served as a mindfulness teacher for three years with eMindful. She has years of training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and other mind/body interventions for high-stress environments, nervous system regulation and behavioral development. Ninette brings a passion for making a difference with her compassionate, playful spirit. Over the past nine years, both online and in-person, she has enjoyed sharing stress management tools and mindfulness-based interventions in a variety of roles and contexts — corporations, healthcare, academia, retreats, group and individual work.