Expanding Your Heart in Conflict


yakovloveIt’s kind of bittersweet. The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart”                       – Yakov Smirnoff

Just imagine for a minute that you want to try and make amends with someone who you are feeling angry towards or you feel they have disappointed you or let you down in some way.

With that person in your mind, I am going to walk you through an exercise…

Read through and then follow these steps:

Step #1: Close you eyes and take three deep breaths.  Each time you exhale think of your body becoming more relaxed.

Step #2: In your minds eye, imagine you and this person sitting on chairs facing one another about one foot apart.

Step #3: Explain to the person that you would like to understand their perspective regarding the incident that has you feeling angry or disappointed.  As they are explaining their perspective, quietly watch & listen to them.

-What do you notice about their body language? (i.e. arms crossed, shoulders tight, slouched)

-What are their facial expressions? (i.e. eyes wide or narrow, frowning, smiling)

-What emotions are they expressing as they speak? (anger, frustration, sadness, happiness, excitement)

Step #4: As you quietly listen to the other person, take note of your internal & external responses.

-What emotions are coming up for you?

-What are your facial expressions? Body language?

-Where do you feel these emotions in your body? (i.e. neck, back, stomach)

-How do you instinctually want to respond to this person? (i.e. argue, defend, walk away) – (BUT DON’T!) 

Step #5: Allow that person to say all that they need to say in terms of voicing their perspective. Once they have finished, envision they are looking at you waiting for you to respond. In this quiet moment as you two look at one another, you respond with a kind gesture. Perhaps you gently take their hands and hold them in yours. Or you lean over and give them a hug (if appropriate) or you give them a warm and sincere smile and acknowledge that you understand their perspective better and thank them.

Step #6: As this scene plays out in your mind, notice how this person responds to your kind gesture.

-What is their body language saying?

-What expressions do you see on their face?

-What are they saying in response to your gesture?  If they say or do something that reciprocates your kind gesture, acknowledge them for it.  i.e. “Thank you for the hug” “Thank you for your vote of confidence in me”

Step #7: As this scene plays out in your mind, notice how you are feeling

-Has your physical body changed in any way? (i.e. less tightness/more tightness)

-What are you experiencing emotionally after your gesture of kindness?

Step #8: Write down your responses

You have just walked through a process of offering a “conciliatory gesture”. Conciliatory gestures are words or actions taken that show the other person you care.

Below is the definition of Conciliatory Gestures as well as examples as described by Dr. Dan Dana from the Mediation Training Institute International who was my instructor for workplace mediation.




Conciliatory gestures are ways to express your acknowledgement of how your words and actions may have contributed to the conflict. For instance a conciliatory gesture could sound like “I realize now that when I interrupted you inConfess Deny Switch the meeting, it came across as discounting what you had to say and I am sorry for that”.

In other words, conciliatory gestures are confessions of contributing to the conflict. You may or may not have contributed on purpose but you realize the actions (or in-actions) you have taken that contributed to the disagreement or misunderstanding.

Conciliatory gestures are extremely powerful because when used properly and they come from the heart, they help to break down the other person’s defensive walls.

When you are experiencing strong feelings towards another person, by walking yourself through these steps you are priming yourself to be more effective in your communication because this exercise helps you to:

  1. Listen more attentively to the other persons perspective
  2. Train your brain to pay attention to the entire person (their body language, voice, inflections, emotions)
  3. Train you brain to pay more attention to your emotions and body language
  4. Develop your ability to give conciliatory gestures
  5. Develop your ability to look for conciliatory gestures coming from the other person
  6. Develop strategies in remaining calm in a difficult discussion.

Expanding Your HeartFinally and most importantly, you are feeling the power of your heart.  You are recognizing your ability to not stay in your world of hurt and anger and move to strengthen your connection, understanding and acknowledgement of the other person.

I encourage you to practice this exercise when you have strong feelings of anger, frustration or disappointment in another person. Pay attention to the shifts you are experiencing when you “hear” their perspective of the situation.

I do want to caution that this exercise should only be done when the feelings are created from “normal” conflict.  And what I mean by “normal” is conflict that is created from difference people have on a day to day basis and NOT from abusive or unhealthy relationships.

Communication is a two way street. You need to be able to voice your perspective in a way in which the other person can hear your point of view (Those steps will be introduced in another post).

This exercise is not about changing the other person but rather to help you be more in tune with the other person when you decide to actually have the real conversation.  See how they really respond when you listen attentively, provide a conciliatory gesture and acknowledge their perspective.

Let me know how this exercise worked for you – I would love to hear from you.