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When I’m tired or low on interpersonal resources, I find it difficult to show up with compassion and grace.

I sink back into judgmental, controlling, and reactive habits even though I know they are self-sabotaging and unlikely to result in what I actually want.

I’ve recently noticed that when things go south I inevitably reach that moment.

You know the moment I’m talking about?

It’s that moment …

  • When we become aware of the swirl we are stuck in.

  • When we realize what we’re doing, often with some mix of dismay and righteousness.

  • When we’re able to shift our focus from pathologizing and analyzing to looking for what is deeply important to us and to others.

  • When we change our lens from identifying what is wrong to looking for what is needed and what would help.

In these moments, what we say next could change everything.

When we stop the blame and shame habits by redirecting my attention to repair work and reconnection, we move from a defensive and self-protective stance to a relational one.

Our lenses change and our focus changes, and new language follows.

Here are three ways to change my lens, focus, and language that I have found particularly useful when I’m wanting to change course or do some repair-work after a difficult interaction:

1.  Express self-responsibility for the past.

Start by taking ownership for your own part in what happened. When we’re able to express ownership for our part in something, the other person no longer feels the same pressure to keep pointing it out to us and it builds relational trust. But remember: self-judgment is not the same as self-responsibility. Keep your focus on neutral observations, feelings, and needs.

2.  Develop insight and awareness in the present.

Focus on the feelings and needs that arise in the present conversation. What do you each want now, in the relationship, in this moment? Connection? Shared understanding? Trust? Clarity? Empathy? Growth? Awareness? Discovery?

3.  Have a vision for the future.

Explicitly name the needs you are going to bat for and invite the other person into more dialogue about them.

Sometimes we simply need to say things like, “Although it’s hard for me, I’m looking for a way we can each be tired and under-resourced but still respond to each other with gentleness and care. Do you want that too or are you looking for something else?”

Or, “I’m feeling regret about how reactive I was with you this morning. It’s not how I want to show up in our relationship and I imagine it didn’t feel good for you either …  At the moment, I’m trying to show up with more care and tenderness for us both, and I’m hoping we can find a way forward that builds more trust and care.”

Now you try it.

What would you like to say more skillfully to re-establish connection with someone you are care about?

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