“He is so rude! Every time we get together he shows up late and says demeaning things to my friends and me. I always bite my tongue and try to change the conversation. I just don’t understand why he doesn’t change.” Comments like this are made every day in our homes, businesses, and social settings. The underlying message is, “I’m not OK, and it’s your fault.”
Honest relationships can be messy and may experience challenges. People are not perfect; they will disappoint us and cause us pain. By the same token, we are not perfect, and we will disappoint others and cause them pain. Healthy relationships are able to move through these difficult times and build stronger bonds by practicing honesty, care, and consideration.
When conflict arises, our first reaction is to defend our position and blame the other person, eliminating personal responsibility. Once blame is firmly established, personal power evaporates, a victim mentality takes root, and individuals become emotionally charged, which hinders their ability to see things from the other person’s point of view.
When I feel myself becoming defensive and emotionally charged, I remind myself to focus on the issue, not the person. In a defensive posture I simply dig in, fortify my position, and compound the problem. I admire how my husband has developed the ability to separate the issue from the individual so he can fully hear what the person has to say and then respond effectively. More often than not, he is able to bring about calm and diffuse the situation.
Imagine a world in which everyone took responsibility for their words and actions. Conflicts would be minimized, and relationships would be so much more fulfilling. Here are a few ways to practice personal responsibility.
Communicate with class. Think and edit before you speak. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean you should say it. Too often we speak and then regret what we said. Sadly, there is no delete button.
Be a generous listener. To be fully listened to and heard is a luxury few enjoy.
Replace “you” statements with “I” statements. “You” statements eliminate personal responsibility and give power to the other person. “You made me so mad!” says I don’t control my own emotions and you are responsible for them. “I” statements (“I feel…,” “I hear…,” “I understood…,” “I need…”) are more powerful because they create clarity and communicate personal responsibility. “I feel unappreciated when ____.”
Carefully consider every action and every choice. This includes clothing, grooming, body language, and behavior. Acting in a civil manner requires an understanding that every action taken somehow affects others.
Maintain a balance between giving and receiving. While we don’t keep score of who did what for whom in a relationship, we also don’t want to take advantage of others.
We will never eliminate all conflict from our relationships, but when we take personal responsibility for our words and actions we will operate from a position of power and produce healthy, fulfilling relationships.
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