This is a bowl of Chili Colorado, made with hot chili peppers.

Go slow with chili peppers and conflict

chili pepper

Professional and personal relationships can be challenging, especially if there’s a conflict. Somedays, they are like chili peppers. In looking at the pepper, you believe it won’t be that bad and you can handle it, but once you bite into it, you’re committed. Even if you spit out the bite as soon as you perceive the pepper’s level of spiciness, it’s too late.  The sensation is already embedded into your tongue and you must wait it out.

But there’s a strategy you can use when you eat a hot pepper to build your tolerance to its heat. And the same strategy for eating a chili pepper works well in relationships, too, especially if the relationship is in the middle of a conflict:

  • Take it slow: when you are working through a conflict, it’s better to take your time in a discussion and take frequent breaks, especially if the conflict involves other people, vulnerable emotions or high finance.
  • Cool your mouth. Listen twice as often as you speak. See below for more in-depth tips on how to listen so others will speak in more meaningful ways.
  • Neutralize burns. Don’t take it personally if your partner or coworker in a relationship verbally attacks you. In the heat of the moment people unknowingly panic and lash out. Work hard to refrain from retaliating.
  • Think your way through it. When you eat a chili pepper you activate the same pain receptors in the brain as if sticking your hand in a fire. That’s the same with a conflict. When the fight or flight response has kicked in during a conflict, the mind and body get confused about the stress of a conflict and an actual threat. Once the brain is activated by this sensation of pain it lasts about 15 minutes. So, if you think you are going to be engaged in a highly emotional discussion, perhaps it would be good to set a timer for 15 minutes, so you can take a break and cool down.

The most effective strategy in relationships is to practice listening skills. Here are some tips to help you reduce conflict:

  1. Listen with all of you with your body language showing you are engaged. This means leaning forward slightly, open body stance, and soft, direct eye contact.
  2. Listen with undivided attention and be completely present with the speaker you are with.
  3. Validate the speaker’s feelings and acknowledging what you perceive his or her emotion to be as s/he is speaking. If you are wrong, allow the speaker to explain further. Keep reflecting back until the speaker indicates s/he feels heard.
  4. Put aside your own need to be right. If you are experiencing discomfort, you can acknowledge this to the speaker by stating “this is a challenging topic for me” or “I am feeling ______.” Do what you can to manage your own discomfort by deep breathing or sipping water. If the speaker is sharing something with which you are unfamiliar, you can convey this and your willingness to learn more.
  5. Avoid giving advice, unless the speaker asks specifically “what do you think?” And, even then, it’s best to soften your thoughts by stating that you are not them and you don’t know if what you would do would be the correct action for them.

With time, you will be able to handle hotter peppers, and with time, you will have healthier ways to resolve conflict. Of course, it’s a choice to not ever eat a hot pepper or to avoid conflict at all costs, but if you do you will miss out on a full range of food and relationship experiences.

Recipe of the day:

Chile Colorado

chili colorado4 1/2 New Mexico dry chilies, washed with stems and seeds removed
1 1/2 c. water
2 1/2 lbs. boneless, beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 T. and 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 lg. yellow onion, chopped
1 c. beef stock or water

Place chilies and 3 cups water in a med. stockpot and bring to a boil; remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes to soften. Strain into a bowl, reserving the cooking liquid. Place the chilies and some of the liquid into a blender and puree until smooth. Add more liquid as necessary to form a smooth sauce. Pass sauce through a fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds and the tough skins; set aside. Cut the roast into 1/ to 2/inch chunks. In a med. bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge the beef chunks in the seasoned flour; set aside. Heat olive oil in a large pot over med. heat. Saute onion until tender and translucent about 5 minutes. Add beef chunks a few at a time, so as not to overcrowd the pot and cook until evenly brown. Remove cooked meat and continue browning remaining meat. Return reserved cooked meat and continue browning remaining meat. Return reserve cooked meat to the pot. Stir in pureed chili mixture; add beef stock to cooked meat to the pot. Stir in pureed chili mixture; add beef stock to just cover beef chunks or to preference. Bring to a boil over med. heat; reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 3 hours or until meat is tender. Adjust with more stock during cooking. Serves 6.

© 2019 Brenda Henning

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