Have you ever been in an argument like the one here from Bearmageddon by Ethan Nicolle?
As a parent of two boys myself, I can see both sides of this argument. There are so many life lessons we can glean from this encounter alone. And Ethan Nicolle (also creator of Axe Cop) really nailed a lot of it on the head. I am sure many can relate.
This is a great opportunity to learn some important brain science that will help us with emotional intelligence.
How the two sides of the brain work
Your brain has two halves which is not news. There is the left brain which is the rational side, and then the right brain which is traditionally known as the emotional side. What many don't realize is that both sides of the brain are meant to experience emotions. They just process emotions differently.
Think of it like your left brain is more concerned with how you think you feel, where the right side is how you feel you feel. That might seem confusing so let me explain it a little differently. Your right brain feels emotions instantly. Like when you suddenly see a dog snarling, you don't have to think about how you feel. You just feel it. Fear is instant. What happens then is your left brain starts to think about how you feel and makes rational decisions.
Your brain is designed to make the best decisions with both sides
People used to say they are more left brain and right brained. While this can be technically true, it is not a good thing to get stuck there. I don't know about you but I would like to believe I am using my whole brain. The issue is that we don't learn the skills to use both sides properly.
This is where we describe as your brain going "relationally offline." This simply means that your left side of the brain has taken over and the right side, the part that connects emotionally to relationships, is shut down. They actually can measure this based upon neurological activity.
The most common sign that your brain is offline is your interactions with people have become about who is wrong and right and there is a win-lose strategy. Such as the case here between father and son. Neither were interested in having empathy or preserving the relationship. It was all about proving to the other their side of the argument was right.
Signs you are using half a brain
Here is how you can tell if your brain is relationally offline (also known as "triggered"):
- You only focus on the problem.
- You only want to solve the problem or you want the problem to be solved for you.
- You only care about tasks-at-hand.
Now here is the thing. You don't actually have to be mad or have animosity toward another person. We can be perfectly calm and rational, simply lacking any desire to improve or connect the relationship. This means that some people walk around relationally offline, only using half a brain, almost all the time (I am one who used to be this way).
What to do if you find yourself offline
There are many skills we can learn for emotional and relational maturity here. For the sake of this post, let me offer one technique that helps.
First, ask yourself,
"Is the relationship more important to me than the problem, solutions or tasks-at-hand?"
In the case here between father and son, their argument is leading to a fracturing that could take painful years to repair. I know this is just a comic but we all have, or at least know of, relationships that are broken beyond repair because of fights just like this.
Second, take a moment to simply try and appreciate what the other might be experiencing. This is called empathy. You may not feel what they are feeling, but there is a skill called cognitive empathy where you can at least think about how they might be feeling.
I also try and go beyond with this technique and write down a list of things I appreciate about someone in general. This will actually prevent you from going offline in the first place. For example, I have a journal where I write things down I appreciate about my wife and children. When I sense I am going offline about something, I will often reflect on that list and say things out loud to them directly. All because the relationship is more important than any problem, solutions or tasks.
Go ahead and try this technique with someone you love or need to be in relationship. Maybe it is a coworker, friend or business partner. Just like any technique it takes practice. See what happens. You will notice an immediate difference even if you are not in an argument. It will help you avoid your own "bearmageddon" in all walks of life.
Any thoughts? Let me know!