Communicating in Stressful Times


A Few Brief and Personal Thoughts

If you’re anything like me right now, you are feeling overwhelmed with all of the information coming at you: fearful Facebook articles, constant COVID-19 updates and, of course, numerous on-line fitness instructors telling me how I should tone up while in lockdown.

So, instead of a long “Marli Rant”, I want to give you some quick pointers on how best to relate to those around you right now:

  1. It’s important to acknowledge that many of us are stressed and scared. Some of us may not be, and that’s also okay. No one should have to react or feel the way about this situation as anyone or everyone else. No one should feel guilty, ashamed or judged for not experiencing or reacting to these events in the same way as others. Simply acknowledging how others may be feeling right now is critical to your relationships – agreeing with them is not.
  2. During stressful times, particularly when we are taken out of our routines and faced with the unknown, many of us will become triggered by something someone else says or does (even if it’s someone we love, like or usually respect). We may then feel hurt, offended, angry or just plain exasperated.
  3. When this happens, let’s try to remember the words of Victor Frankl:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 

  1. When “that person” says “that thing”, I encourage you to find the “space” referenced by Frankl and “push the pause button”. It goes without saying that if the person is doing something that needs to stop, then, of course, let them know and put out that fire.  Otherwise, don’t do or say anything. Go to the next room, play your favourite song, answer emails or fold laundry. Do anything other than react and respond at that moment.
  2. Once on your own, remind yourself of the stress, fear or anxiety you may be feeling and remember that they are likely feeling the same way. Empathy is so important right now.
  3. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe me when I say that, in all likelihood, they did not realize they offended or triggered you, nor did they intend to do so. It’s just very emotional, messy and “sparky” right now. We are all on edge and maybe stepping on each other’s toes. That’s not an excuse, of course, but it’s something we need to remember before jumping to judgment, getting defensive or attacking back.
  4. After pushing the pause button and taking a break, ask yourself if you need to further engage on whatever happened. Is it important enough to address right now, or is it something you can let go? This can’t be answered by anyone other than you. Just remember that “letting go”, forgiving others and moving on takes as much strength and courage as constantly confronting or writing off those who have offended us.
  5. If you decide that the issue is important enough to address (for example, it involves mandatory work rules or expectations, or is a violation of significant professional or personal boundaries), then find the right time to raise it with the other person.
  6. Then raise it with them in the right way.
  7. Let them know, calmly, clearly and compassionately, what specifically bothered you and why. Don’t label them, don’t accuse them and don’t attack them. Just let them know what you are thinking about. They cannot read your mind nor should they be expected to.
  8. At the same time, let them know what they could have said or done differently to have avoided your reaction. Everyone’s wish list for communicating with and relating to others is unique. Share yours.
  9. After you’re done, listen to what they have to say. Respect that they may have interpreted or experienced the same interaction very differently than you. Respect that they might simply disagree with you.
  10. You don’t need to agree with each other about the past in order to agree on how to interact in the future.
  11. Together, figure out ways to live or work together in a manner that best respects everyone’s interests and values.
  12. Finally, please remember that these are not easy times, and none of this is easy. So go easy on yourselves and those around you.

These are unprecedented and challenging times for everyone.  If I can be of help in any way, please let me know. I am available by phone or online (including evenings and weekends) to hear about your current challenges and in turn, offer quick and practical advice.

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