Let’s talk a bit more about moments of conflict – those times in a conversation, or after reading an email or a text, that suddenly make you aware of some tightness in your stomach, or flushing in your face, or an increase in your blood pressure (as is often my cue).

You feel in that moment that this person is “wrong” somehow, or that you might or could become “wrong” somehow. There are many facets to our experience in these moments, but I want to focus on one in particular that can help us stay objective, if we can recognize it.

In these moments that an interaction has triggered stress, we’re feeling as if there are stark “right” and “wrong” sides. This is two-dimensional thinking, and this is “all or nothing” perspective can feel very “true” in the moment. But the “right” side or “wrong” side in most conflicts, is an unhelpful distraction.

The sides we really need to worry about in stressful moments, are the ones within us.

We’ve all seen or heard examples of people redeeming themselves after big mistakes, and we love those stories precisely because deep down, we all know that we may need a second chance some day. This capacity to mess up, be arrogant or cold … we all have the capacity to be that way … and when we remember this, it can actually help us feel more optimistic about the common ground we have with others.

People are not two-dimensional. We are not two-dimensional. We have the capacity to live from our prefrontal cortex (the calm and kind side) which has plenty of room for rational compassion. But we also have the capacity to slip into our “fight/flight” side, which is, and always will be, incapable of compassion, and rational compassion gives us the ability to oversee which side of ourselves we are perceiving from … objective rationality? or fear-based thinking?

Yes there are right actions and there are wrong actions, and you deserve to feel what you feel about other people’s actions for sure. But “people” are not static. That’s a relieving truth in times that we need self-compassion, and it’s a warning for times we might be drawn to harshly judge someone else in a conflict. The emotional investment of feeling about someone’s “wrongness,” has no benefit, and only limits our view of the full set of options in any given moment.

I’ll repeat this because it’s an important, but slippery distinction. We deserve to feel our anger, sadness or fear about stressful interactions. But we don’t have to go down the fruitless road of “deciding” or concluding about entire people, because we are all works in progress. We always have the ability to create solutions beyond the picture that fear can paint in a moment.


Jessica Kiesler
Jessica Kiesler

Jessica is the creator of The VisibleU™ Method. Over the last 20 years she has helped hundreds of busy adults create more balance within, and with others. Jessica received her master’s degree in Applied Psychology from New York University, and completed mediation training at the Columbia University School of Law. She has held numerous clinical roles, managed clinical operations for a national EAP, and advised executives on employee-relations concerns at Fortune 1000 companies.