Everyone deals with conflict. Learning how to let go of offense within conflict will help you restore peace and move forward in your relationships.
Everyone deals with conflict whether at work, on a trip, with a friend or with a family member. While conflict sometimes is unavoidable, how we choose to deal with it reflects who we are inside. Feeling frustrated, angry or even sad is normal if not even expected, however, holding onto those feelings won’t mend a relationship or solve your problem. Lingering anger doesn’t lead to anything good. It tends to have adverse effects on our physical and emotional health. When we are in the midst of conflict, it’s easy to dive into offense and be ready to fight back–but let me tell you, there is a better way!
As a former wilderness Instructor, I know firsthand how easily conflict can arise. Maybe someone forgot supplies at a different campsite, someone read the map wrong which led to more miles to get back on track, or maybe someone is tired and stops pulling their weight during a canoe trip which leads to others working hard to make up for them. There is no lack of opportunity for conflict, yet, that also means that there is no lack of opportunity to show and practice leadership.
During Outward Bound courses, we take time to dive into hard conversations and see conflict as an opportunity to grow. When we can step into these situations with an aim of curiosity and a growth mindset, we are able to learn and apply these values and principles. Below are five tips to help you let go of offense and step into resolution.
Letting Go of Offense Takes Practice
Having good conflict resolution skills takes a lot of patience, compassion for oneself and empathy. It’s not something that you’re born with or just “have” magically appear in your toolbox. Being able to identify when you’re upset and dive into why you’re holding onto offense is a skill. A skill is something that you develop over time, just like learning how to sail, in order to be good at it, you must practice!
Part of being able to resolve conflict comes from knowing oneself and “why” we’re reacting the way we do. Taking time to sort through your choices, reactions and immediate thoughts will help you not only let go of your anger but allow you to take a step forward and perhaps resolve that conflict. With practice and real-life applications, we can seek to improve our path and the relationships around us.
Empathy Asks, “What Are They Feeling?”
Empathy happens when you put yourself in another’s shoes and try to understand the world through their viewpoint. It’s different from sympathy in that sympathy means you feel sorry for someone while empathy means you can feel what the other person is feeling. Essentially, empathy is understanding without judgment. When it comes to letting go, practicing empathy is a crucial skill of the offense because it forces you to switch the focus from yourself to the other person’s perspective. This action is freeing in that it allows you more time to understand rather than react. Empathy gives you a level of freedom by helping you step back and see the conflict as an opportunity to grow.
Awareness Asks, “Who Am I and What Do I Need?”
Recognizing and practicing self-awareness will help you sort out the source of your anger to determine the root cause. Practicing awareness will help you take the extra step to figure out why you feel offended which will ultimately help you make choices that align with your values. Is the cause of frustration or anger something you can change or do you need to step away from it? Is this something you need to confront or let go of? Do you need some time to yourself to collect your thoughts? By practicing self-awareness, you’re able to make those judgment calls for yourself.
Name What You Are Feeling
When you’re offended, the strong emotions you’re probably experiencing can take over and give you bad internal advice. “React!” “Fight!” “I’m losing control!” Those intense emotional feelings could lead to emotional responses that simply may not work out to your advantage.
One way to help tame those strong emotions is to describe or name what you’re feeling. When you choose to name what’s going on inside, in other words, label your emotions, you’ll calm down the emotional limbic portion of your brain that was triggered by those strong emotions! A calm mind helps you organize your thoughts and slows down your reactions enough to monitor your actions.
For example, if you find yourself stuck focusing on a situation, take a step back and see if you can describe what is happening in your mind, whether that is out loud, in a journal, or maybe with another person. This will help you slow down and sort out your feelings rather than reacting to them.
Letting Go of Offense Is a Practice In Compassion
Don’t make a habit of sitting on offense. It only leads to resentment, bitterness and reactivity. While at first, it may feel like we’re owed a fight, we’ll come out of conflict with less insight into ourselves and others when we stay offended.
Practicing compassion will open the door for better conversation as it humbles us enough to admit what we’re feeling – terrified, sad, disappointed, heartbroken, irritated. We can learn from these emotions and step into a growing conversation from a more authentic place of understanding.
The Art of Letting Go
Letting go offense requires a lot of self-reflection that’s developed over time. Just like a muscle, your ability to communicate clearly and resolve conflict depends on your commitment to strengthening those skills. It may not feel great or natural at all, but have grace! Take it one day at a time, striving not for perfect outcomes but for understanding yourself and those around you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When it comes to understanding how to navigate through new and confusing situations, maintaining a beginner’s mindset, fostering a desire to learn and even leveraging other people’s experiences is healthy and wise. When you are committed to living in alignment with your values, you will be able to grow in the art of letting go of offense.
About the Author
Hanna McCarthy is a former Outward Bound Instructor and now lives and works in Philly with her husband, Nick, and two dogs, Jelly and Waffle. She finds time each year to surf in new places and enjoys spending time with friends and family. Hanna now splits her career between a corporate job and teaching yoga, finding balance in her life.