Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with someone and noticed that you were having a physical response to something they said? Your beats faster, your facial expression and body language change, and you may even feel an array of emotions well up inside you.
Over the years, I’ve mostly remained silent during these uncomfortable exchanges – in part, because I had no idea how to respond. I’ve never liked confrontational situations, and rarely have I seen a heated exchange produce anything positive.
But the older I get, the more often I find myself responding to unkind or aggressive comments that are made by others.
The trick, though, is knowing how to respond.
I’m learning to ask questions, or offer solutions, rather than respond with an equally unkind statement. Asking questions reveals more about what’s behind the words being spoken, which usually has nothing to do with us at all.
My act of self-care for the day was to lean into an uncomfortable conversation, ask questions about what exactly the other person was asking from me, and offer suggestions for how to avoid a similar situation in the future. The conversation dissipated quickly.
I’m sure that my training as a coach has helped me choose my responses carefully, but I also think that age has somehow made me bolder, more willing to set boundaries, and less willing to be the passive subject of someone else’s frustration.
Not everything requires a response, I know — particularly so if it’s clear that the emotional state of the other person is beyond reason, or if there are clear safety concerns. But speaking up helps us become better communicators. Done well, it eases tensions that are usually unfounded to begin with.
When we ask, listen, and respond with kindness, everyone benefits.