Wars are destructive. The high human cost creates holes in our hearts so deep that it can feel hard to forgive, forget, and forge on. The physical impact of war extends to our mental constructs. Wars lead us to question – will we ever be safe?
As we move into phase three of the Israel-Hamas war and just short of 100 days since the war began, many of us here in Israel ask ourselves, how will we rebuild our lives in the wake of this war? Who can lead us to the other side? What is my responsibility and role in rebuilding?
I am not a frontline warrior.
I am an Israeli Jew living in Jerusalem.
I am firmly situated on the homefront.
While many things keep me up at night, in daytime hours, I am most concerned with the question, “How can I do my part in creating a society and a culture worthy of protection?”
While the wider context in which I live is the Israel-Hamas war and the regional conflict that is brewing, my specific sphere of influence, however, is much more narrow; it is my family, my community, my colleagues, and my work.
In light of the wartime context, how can we transform the energy generated by our anxiety, worry, and concern into exercising muscles that can help us build and rebuild our connections and constructive communication with each other – in our families, communities, and teams.
Let’s take the context of work. Communication is our core tool to build our teams and move forward toward collective action. I am struck by the military-speak we use to describe our conversations when they go sideways. We ask, “What triggered you?” We feel “attacked” by an email, or “defensive” under a “barrage” of complaints. Some of us may feel “ambushed” in a meeting.
While sitting in an office is a very different context from an army base, I am struck by how our communication style can feel threatening.
What are the qualities of constructive communication that can strengthen connection and cooperation as we consider moving from a wartime paradigm to what comes next?
Three skills to start practicing now include:
Become aware of our triggers – when we feel “triggered” we are quick to react. The impact of our reaction can be potentially harmful. What we say may come off as defensive or aggressive. Let’s start noticing what sets us off and put space between us and our reactions. A deep breath, averting our eyes, or a short walk can create that space. In that space, as Viktor Frankl reminds us, lies our choice to decide how we want to react.
Listen with – sometimes it’s hard to listen. So many things distract us from bringing our full attention to another person. We might be listening to what they are saying, but we are not listening with them. To listen with someone else is to bring our full attention to them. One simple way to do that is to reflect back on what they are saying as a part of the conversation. Simply saying, “What I hear you saying is… did I get that right?” will help the other person feel heard. As Simone Weil says, listening is the rarest form of generosity. It’s a basic skill that might feel technical and scripted when we do it. But try to listen generously, it makes a difference.
Encourage – it is so much easier to bring down than to build up. We talk about others, we complain and we criticize. No positive and sustaining change has come on the heels of criticism. Instead, change happens with encouragement. Encouragement is not the same as complimenting. When we compliment others it does not last. It’s a quick dopamine hit. When we encourage someone, our words become an internal script that stays with them. It focuses on process, and effort, not the product. Instead of, “You did an amazing job at that presentation” try, “It was clear how hard you worked to prepare the presentation.” Even the most minute movement is worthy of encouragement. When a boss is not a good manager and signs up for a leadership course, instead of saying (to yourself and others) “he’s taking a leadership course, but what difference will it make?” try, “the fact that he decided to sign up for the leadership course is a step in the right direction.”
Our words create worlds. If we want to build, let’s double down on the words we use to offer encouragement, listen generously, and pause before reacting in a way we will regret. Becoming a better communicator takes courage over the long term.