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The Protective Coating of Teflon

As you may remember from previous columns, there are three life skills that are essential to good self-esteem and relationship building:

  • Knowing your own character strengths
  • Encouragement of others
  • Conflict resolution

You previously learned that handling conflict is a skill that is difficult for most folks as it can cause uncomfortable feelings. When someone is angry with you it is important to recognize their criticism and own any feedback that is valid. However, most conflict is 85% projection—that means that the sender of the conflict is struggling with something that he or she is projecting onto you. Therefore it is important to recognize that their need to put you down, argue with you or be critical of you comes out of an unresolved issue with them.

In conflict resolution a healthy person evaluates the situation, takes what is valid and then says to themselves, “This is not about me, this is about them.” Do you remember that life skill? Many of my readers have asked for elaboration of how not to take conflict personally. Consequently, there is another tool that you can use to insulate you from the anger that can be inherent in criticism. It is called “the Teflon approach”.

The Teflon approach entails visualizing that anytime you fear getting into a confrontive situation you imagine yourself being sprayed with Teflon. Hence, the negative criticisms or put-downs that can appear when people are angry simply slide off of you. In other words, you visualize spraying yourself with that slippery coating so that the words cannot stick to you.

Have you ever had a fight with your spouse where hurtful and unfair things were said? Later your spouse apologized and said, “I didn’t really mean those things.” If you had had your Teflon on, you would recognize that these words don’t have to stick and they can roll right off of you. Once the argument is over, you can calmly decide what is useful information without the personal wounds of a verbal attack. Sometimes, the words are not angry, but the criticism itself, as well as the negative feelings that come from criticism, still hurts. Being sprayed with Teflon also wards off those feelings.

Has your boss ever taken you into their office and made statements that inferred you were a disappointment as an employee? Had you been sprayed with Teflon, you would be able to hear the evaluative remarks without them affecting your self-esteem.

This technique works beautifully with children who are verbally abused by other children. You ask them to stand up with their arms and legs apart, and then you start “spraying”. PSSST!! You ask them to turn around to get a coating on their backsides too. You teach them that angry words are only words, not weapons. They can keep the good feelings about themselves.

The next time you are walking into a potential conflict, imagine being sprayed with Teflon. Tell yourself you will hear the criticism, but recognize that 85% of it is probably about the other person. Memorize the statement, “This is not about me, this is about _______.” Say it over and over to yourself (silently, of course).

You will walk out of the encounter with insight and intact self-esteem. When you refuse to take things personally, you are not as defensive. This allows you the gift of insight, because you will know what you need to change to improve the situation. More importantly, you will walk away from the conflict with good self-esteem. You won’t take on the criticism. Teflon is a great tool for conflict resolution. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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