How to put out fires in your relationships.
If your clothes are on fire, you know to Stop, Drop and Roll. But how about when you’re burning up inside because of what someone said to you? Then it’s time to Stop, Drop, and Accept. Learn how to put out fires in your relationships in 60 seconds.
What do you do when you’re on a date, or enjoying Thanksgiving with family, or at the annual strategic planning retreat and suddenly – BOOM! – someone lobs a conversation bomb, and you find yourself burning up inside?
Do you lash out, lobbing an even bigger bomb back? Do you stay quiet and simmer? Or walk away and cry, calling your best friend to lament what happened on the drive home from work?
Does your reaction put out the fire or fan the flames?
Recently, my husband and I were enjoying a lovely brunch when I began to share details about the whiskey tasting party I was planning for his birthday. In the midst of my description of tasting stations and Glencairn glasses, exotic cheeses and dark chocolates sourced from around the world, he said, “But I don’t want a whiskey tasting like that. These are my friends! Why can’t we just be casual?”
“What?!?” I thought, “Does he not realize that I create great events? And that this is our chance to entertain his friends for the first time since I moved in with him? And that the last time he hosted a ‘casual’ dinner party with his friends, he served the three Blue Apron meals delivered to him that week and his guests had to sample each meal off of mismatched, chipped plates?!?”
Conflict is shaped by our perceptions, and our perceptions our shaped by our strengths and personality. In that moment, my perception was shaped by what I call the Eww lens – an invisible, unconscious lens of my personal perspective: my core motivation, fear and desire. Because I was looking through my Eww lens, I found myself burning up inside.
During my 21-year marriage that ended in divorce, I wore my Eww lens constantly, and would have started a fight – about how I wanted his birthday party to go.
On this particular day, however, just as I was about to open my mouth and release the flames, I remembered to Stop, Drop and Accept – the first step in a methodology I teach leaders, teams and couples in order to turn conflict into collaboration.
When the internal fires burn:
- Don’t fan the flames by opening your mouth in reaction.
- Notice your internal state.
- Consider the unconscious, subjective Eww lens you have on – based on your core motivation, fear and desire – and how it shapes your perspective and your internal reaction.
To stop, I kept my mouth shut, and noticed that my internal state was irritated, angry, frustrated and hurt. Through my Eww lens I saw Tom as dismissing my party-planning gifts, leaving me unable to express my superpowers in service to him and our friends.
- Drop your invisible Eww lens.
- Put on the lens of strengths and personality – what I call the Oh… Of Course lens – by reviewing the personality-assessment data you’ve collected about yourself and the other person.
Sitting there, quietly chewing my salmon omelet and sipping my vanilla latte, I chose to shift my lens from Eww to the Oh… Of Course lens of the Enneagram. My internal flames started to subside. Our reactions in this situation had nothing to do with right and wrong, and everything to do with our unconscious lens – our core motivations, fears and desires as revealed by our Enneagram types.
- With the lens of strengths and personality on, ask “What is it about my personality that’s causing my reaction?”
- Allow compassion for yourself to douse the flames of criticism and anger.
- Now ask yourself: “What is it about their personality that underlies their reaction?”
- Expand your compassion to the other person: “Oh… Of course they dropped that bomb in that way; and of course I reacted in this way!”
Oh… Of course we’re going to have a different approach to his birthday party:
As an Enneagram 3 Achiever I am motivated to be worthy and accepted, which I achieve by working very hard at everything I do until it’s excellent and successful and impressive to others. Oh… Of Course I’m going to react if I’m told I can’t do my best, create a special birthday party – and look good in the eyes of Tom’s friends.
Tom, on the other hand, is an Enneagram 8 Challenger. He’s an iconoclast and wants to be safe and in control. He wants earthy authenticity and the truth – not superficiality. Oh… Of Course he wants to feel in charge of his own birthday party and wants it to be simple and pragmatic versus showy.
In that moment, I had a choice to make. I could react from the trap of my Enneagram 3 personality – chasing approval – or I could respond from a place of empowerment. Yes, I was bummed to let go of my fancy, impressive plans, but it was his birthday – not mine.
“Ok, got it,” I said. “So maybe we don’t need to have a five-course whiskey tasting with coordinating appetizer stations… It’s your birthday. How would you like the whiskey tasting to go?”
The flames that could have burned down Tom’s birthday party died out, and we were left to collaboratively plan, based on both of our desires.
This internal process can happen in a moment: as soon as a bomb is thrown into a conversation, we can instantly Stop, Drop and Accept. In other words, practice not opening your mouth until you are grounded in compassion – for you and the person in front of you.
In my next blog, I’ll share the second step in the process: How to articulate, in a safe, constructive way, the obstacles and challenges that came up when the bomb went off.
In the meantime: If you struggle to communicate with your team or family, let’s chat about how you can Stop, Drop and Accept to put out the fires in your relationships and create a culture of compassion, honor and impact where everyone – including you! – shines from their original design.