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Framework for Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors
From Within Any Sort Of Relationship
You don’t fall out of love with someone overnight.
Relationships are dynamic — as individuals are constantly exposed to new information and challenges they must navigate and process through.
While we are happy and at ease with our surrounding circumstances it is easy for those around us to accept our presence. As we navigate challenges and upsetting information that depletes our energy reserves, we have less bandwidth to hold the space for ourselves and others. This is where communication breakdowns occur and over time these seemingly small misunderstandings and slights translate into issues that can result in broken relationships.
With a little attention and awareness it’s possible to build healthy habits around how we interact with others and by consistently modeling ideal interactions, others will naturally adapt to our more progressive way of being.
In our fast-paced modern society we are inundated with messaging and expectations designed to keep our attention split and it can be difficult to remember and maintain how we want to behave.
I developed the framework below for Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors from decades of first-hand crisis response and support work, foster parenting, coaching, counseling, and living through many traumatic situations in my personal life.
The framework is simple but requires a long-term commitment to repeated practice in order to make using it habit and see your desired results surround you.
The more skilled you become at implementing this framework, the easier it will become for you to foster trust and truth within all of your relationships.
Do not get discouraged if others are unwilling to fully participate with you in using this framework. Just keep at it yourself. As you master the implementation of it, those you interact with regularly will unknowingly adapt to it and may eventually appreciate how helpful you are at diffusing challenging situations.
Apply this framework with your children, parents, spouse, partners, siblings, colleagues, teachers, students, and anyone you wish to have more fulfilling relationships with. You may even find yourself inspired to support strangers in resolving conflicts over time.
Framework for Eliminating Unwanted Behaviors
ABSORB: Receive Without Requests
The first step in eliminating unwanted behaviors is to not react when being confronted. Stay calm and collect yourself.
When confronted by a disgruntled person most people have a tendency to shut down or respond ready for a fight. This can present as a raised voice, physical posturing, commanding another person to adapt to one’s preferences, belittling or blaming another person, and so on. None of these behaviors are helpful and will reduce effective communication.
Typically people will become further combative when they see you as confrontational, argumentative, or unreasonable.
It is difficult to reopen communication channels once they’re damaged. Being mindful to calmly breathe through your initial discomfort in a confrontation will position you to facilitate deescalation for the other party and create a safe space for mutual growth.
OBSERVE: Pay Attention To The Person
People are accustomed to having to fight for attention so they’ve developed behaviors that may come off as aggressive, even when they aren’t intending to be.
By giving someone in distress your undivided attention, even for brief moments at a time, you demonstrate to them that they matter and this unspoken recognition can effortlessly put them at ease.
Look the other person in their eyes, even and especially if they’re avoiding eye contact. This helps them get out of whatever script of past experience is firing off in their mind and brings them into the present situation with you.
Soften your facial muscles and your body posture as you listen to their words. See if you notice anything beyond their words that can help you understand what’s going on for them.
It’s important to keep connection during confrontations. Looking away, scowling, or multitasking can feed into the other person’s belief that they have to fight to be heard.
IDENTIFY: Ascertain The Problematic Behavior
Before responding you’ll want to get clear on what specific behavior is causing you stress. While there may be a lot going on and many problematic behaviors, humans can only focus on one thing well at a time.
Once the primary presenting behavior is diffused there may be an opportunity to address additional behaviors right away but oftentimes it will be more impactful to find a calm time later on to deal with those. Use your best judgment while keeping in mind that a long term loving relationship is the ultimate goal opposed to being right or “winning” a confrontation.
While it’s important for you to clearly identify the problematic behavior that you want to address before engaging in dialogue, the behavior doesn’t necessarily need to be named. Naming and labeling can be inflammatory and triggering to the other person, depending on their past experiences.
Avoid phrases that are accusatory and include the words “you are” or “you need” in them and use language instead that demonstrates your reception of their position and of them as someone you sincerely care for.
Most people are accustomed to speaking from the position of victimhood and of not feeling cared for.
When addressing unwanted behaviors you must be able to clearly separate the behavior from the human being who is displaying it with compassion and empathy. Recognize that the other person is temporarily out of sorts and as you establish a safe environment for open dialogue, you gift them the opportunity to step into the position of being a co-observer and active participant in conflict resolution. This may be enough for them to self-diffuse and dialogue appropriately.
ACKNOWLEDGE: Communicate Your Understanding
Use phrases that include language such as “it seems to me that”, ” what I’m hearing is”, and “if I understand correctly” when you address what’s going on for you.
Own your understanding and give the other person an opportunity to agree or disagree. Do not move forward until you’re both in agreement as to what the unwanted behavior is and then focus specifically on that behavior in your dialogue.
Questions that include phrases such as “can we agree that”, “do you think that”, and statements including “I feel” may be helpful.
INVITE: Offer Opportunity For Resolution
Again, it’s important to let the other person know that they matter. Remember that you’re not looking to be right and make them wrong. You’re goal is to overcome a joint problem by together coming up with a new way of doing something.
Align yourself with the other person so that they see the two of you working together towards a better relationship and drop into a space of curiosity and creativity with them. Come up with ideas for how you’ll be able to apply your newfound resolution tactic in potential future interactions.
RELEASE: Let Go Regardless
To wrap up a productive interaction be sure to thank the other person for their participation. You may say something like “Thank you for participating with me in this discussion. I know it was uncomfortable and really appreciate your willingness to work through this with me.” This sort of verbal acknowledgement of them stretching with you is extremely helpful in deepening your relationship. It closes the conversation in a way that feels complete. It may feel unnecessary and even awkward to do, as people have become accustomed to ending interactions without much acknowledgement of them. The more frequently you verbalize your appreciation of others though, the easier and more natural it becomes and you’ll soon find that your effort gets reflected back to you.
People often forget that they’re on the same side as their counterparts due to slight misunderstandings. Nobody wants conflict. Everybody wants peace, ease, and joy. When we conscientiously slow down and take the time to be fully present and in partnership with another person, it’s incredible the immense ripple effect it can have.
In cases where your counterpart is non-responsive or non-participatory in the dialogue it is still important that you wrap up and release the interaction, even if only by yourself.
Following an unsuccessful attempt ask yourself if you can let it go without further concern or not.
If so, write yourself a note of appreciation acknowledging what you learned about yourself from a growth perspective and list out ideas of where you will be able to apply this awareness in multiple areas of your life.
If not, ask yourself what new boundaries, systems, or supports could be implemented in order to reduce the likelihood of having the unwanted behavior occur again and create or obtain what you need as appropriate.
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