Tackling Emotions in Settling Differences

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Maliha had just returned from her 6-years-old daughter Anum’s school. She unfolded the now crumpled report of Anum that confirmed Dyslexia. Anum’s teacher was very caring and reassuring that Anum was an extremely bright kid, who just needed special attention and a different means to learn. Maliha’s child was different. How would she break the news to Ali, her husband? Anum was her father’s apple of the eye, the only child born ten years after their marriage.

Maliha knew this wasn’t the end of the world. But the string of tears just poured, staining her face. She decided to relieve her own pain, so she could be strong later when informing Ali. They could go out tonight to a quiet place, where she could gently explain to Ali all that Ms. Sarah (Anum’s teacher) had talked about. She carefully re-read the information Ms. Sarah had given her. Maliha mapped out in her mind the conversation that she would hold with Ali. She arranged Anum’s babysitting with her grandmother. She planned everything meticulously.

Meanwhile at the office, Ali had a monstrous day. He broke into an argument with his demanding boss. His top of the line worker had an accident and fractured his leg. One of Ali’s important customers filed a complaint about the company’s poor service. It was a trying day, and by the evening, Ali was glad it was finally over. All he wanted to do was go home, play with Anum, have his favourite meal and hit the bed. He had to be in the office very early next morning to prepare a compensation plan for his disgruntled client and present it to the senior management. That required much thinking.

When Ali arrived from work, he looked drained much to Maliha’s immediate disappointment. She suggested that they dine out to relax and change the mood, which was the last thing Ali wanted to hear.  He suggested otherwise. Ali wanted to eat at home and retire early to bed. Maliha insisted that she wanted to eat out without explaining anything. Ali was now very irritated, as he couldn’t understand why. He had had such a rotten day, and it was still not over with Maliha mindlessly nagging him about a stupid evening out.

They both projected what were their positional bargains, their own stances without finding out the reasons, why the other person was disagreeing. Both had valid reasons to differ but never communicated to each other. The hidden intent behind these differences remained concealed, until it was too late. Maliha and Ali, who were already vulnerable and wounded from previous experiences, locked horns and ended up in a battle.

This is what we experience almost daily with strangers, acquaintances and our dear ones – situations in which the hidden intentions are not communicated, assumptions are made at face value, and wrong results are derived from faulty calculations. The art of creating agreements is lost.

Could Ali and Maliha have handled the above situation differently? Maybe. Here is a guideline that “Timelenders” (a management consulting and training firm) offers for tackling emotions in settling differences:

  1. Be calm.

When you sense a disagreement with someone, do not opt for emotional outbursts. This may seem difficult initially but with conscious thought and practice, volatile emotions can be tamed.

  1. Recognize the other’s emotions.

Make a shift of priorities to understand the other person’s sentiments. Sometimes we are so consumed by our own feelings that we ignore the other person’s heartache altogether.

  1. Make your own emotions explicit.

Clarify how you feel, without expecting others to guess or take initiative figuring out your worries. No one is a master psychologist or owns a crystal ball to know what is going on in your life.

  1. Allow the other side let off steam.

If tempers are high, let the other person say what he/she has to. They won’t be listening to you in any case, if you try to out speak them, since they will be wrapped in their own miseries.

  1. Keep an eye on the emotional bank account.

It is easier to settle differences with people you have been nice to. If you have shared positive experiences and had a good relationship with them, there would be no grudges hindering or haunting from the past. Always try to treat everyone courteously, so they remember your past goodness.

A word of caution: possible communication challenges might occur, so:

  1. Keep an eye on the non-verbal communication.

Many people are not effective with words and are unable to explain their actual stance. In such cases, try to follow their body gestures, silence, etc.

  1. Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.

When they speak, listen intently. Comprehend later. Judge lastly. Do not reverse the sequence. Also, do not multitask during a disagreement in order to avoid further irritation.

  1. Speak to be understood.

Don’t mumble, throw jargon, talk sarcastically or in under currents, so as to leave the other person wondering, what you actually meant.

  1. Don’t speak from the gallery.

Do not involve others in the conversation or talk in front of people who have nothing to do with your disagreement. Address only the parties involved.

Following are some non-verbal communication one needs to be mindful of:

  1. Speech pace and pauses
  2. Pitch and tone
  3. Use of space and distance
  4. Body motion and gestures
  5. Body posture
  6. Facial expressions
  7. Gaze
  8. Touch and body contact

In 1967, psychologist Albert Mehrabian analyzed the impact that a speaker’s attitudes and feelings leave on an audience. Following is what he discovered:

Imagine: in a conversation or presentation, visual content (your body language) has 55% of impact on others. Similarly, the way you present your words has 93% of an impact on the other person. If your verbal language and body language is out of sync, you can never be taken as a genuine person. If you want to apologize, your voice and expressions must convey it. If you want to appreciate someone, you cannot furrow your brows and twitch your nose when complimenting. Similarly, if you are concerned about someone, you can’t laugh and look merry about it. Your intentions have to be communicated with actions (co-related body gestures).

Differences and disagreements are part of life. They are natural and set us apart from machines. They facilitate us to mature as humans. They truly bare our soul. In such times, we are tested for our wisdom, grace and character.

Face the Facts

Did you know that our face can support:

  1. 8 positions for brows and forehead,
  2. 17 positions for our eyes and eyelids,
  3. 45 positions for our lower jaw,
  4. 43 distinct and separate muscle movements in the face giving us a combination of 10,000 identifiable facial configurations,
  5. Fleeting facial expressions that last for four hundredth of a second.

Subhan’Allah! If Allah (swt) is the Creator, we are a marvel of His creation.

Unlocking Horns – Conflict Resolution

conflict

Are you a member of the younger or middle generation, struggling to handle family and/or marriage-related problems resulting from familial ‘interference’ in your life?

The first thing to remember is that no matter what your elderly parents do, you have to honour them as much as possible and be patient with them. Never rebuke or snap at them. It is equally important to remember that, as Muslims, pointing out and stopping their injustices is also an obligation. Here are some tips to help you towards effective conflict resolution:

(1) If your parents or other family elders do something that causes chronic anger, hurt feelings or discord between you and your spouse, follow the method of arbitration, as outlined by the Quran (4:35), and request a trustworthy, Allah-fearing and sincere mutual relative to intercede on your behalf and convey to them your points of concern and complain. The most common issues, based on my limited experience, because of which the need for such arbitration might arise are: elderly parents giving blatant preference to daughters over daughters-in-law in terms of love, attention and treatment meted out to grandchildren; interference, manipulation and control that exceeds the boundaries of privacy and independence, especially in how and where the sons’ money is spent; coercing one married son to live with them in their house, but allowing the other sons to live as nuclear families; dictating the Tarbiyah of grandchildren, and so on.

(2) Contact a religious scholar and ask them to advise your elders. This might backfire, as your parents or parents-in-law might feel insulted or humiliated before a religious authority. As an alternative, write a letter to your elders, and/or print out relevant Fatawa by scholars to let them know how their actions are wrong in the eyes of Allah (swt). This method should be used especially for those elders, who unapologetically commit actions that are Haram (such as lying, Gheebah (backbiting) and slander), and who become very defensive in person, continuing to argue and answer back, until their adult child is silenced into grudging submission.

(3) If arbitration and writing doesn’t work, and your parents or parents-in-law continue injustice or any other action that is a sin in Islam, use the rights, freedoms and independence that Allah (swt) has afforded you through His Deen to incorporate a temporary distancing from them or a moderation of visits or interaction that will prevent further discord. Please note: this solution should be employed only in cases of necessity, when the level of marital discord between a husband and wife due to family interference has reached a ‘red-flag’ level (i.e., divorce or separation is imminent), or when a person starts to suffer extreme mental distress or depression because of the actions of their parents or parents-in-law.

(4) If nothing else seems to work, pray to Allah (swt) for guidance and relief. Acknowledge that this is a test from Allah (swt) and be patient. For the men, who find themselves sandwiched between their parents and wives/children – take this as your training to ‘become a man’ and learn to juggle/balance both sides of your family with tact and diplomacy.

Often bring to mind the tremendous debt you owe your parents for raising you. Never forget the Ihsan they have done towards you, which you will never be able to repay.

Recalling the way they tolerated your mischief throughout your childhood will soften your heart towards them and help you overlook their injustice, Insha’Allah!