In managing a difficult relationship, patience is key. Whether you’ve got a cantankerous colleague at work or a tricky teenager at home, problems are best handled carefully. You might want things just to sort themselves out, though you know that’s unlikely. Still, that seems to be the US government’s approach to unidentified flying objects that are apparently regularly visiting America. Communicating with UFOs? Relationships don’t get more difficult than that

Traditionally, aliens visiting America used to show up at remote places with a flying saucer and a sense of humour, and terrorise local people whom no-one in authority would believe. A flood of fanciful sci-fi stories and a drop of moonshine always helped things along. Evidence was thin, but if aliens existed they sure liked to create problems for country folk.

13,000mph with no obvious signs of propulsion

Then the US military began looking at the issue. Last month, two former navy pilots told 60 Minutes that in 2004 “multiple anomalous aerial vehicles” were seen on radar descending 15 miles in less than a second, off the coast of California. When they went to investigate, the pilots saw an object above an area of churning white water, in an otherwise calm blue sea.

Former intelligence operative Luis Elizondo, who led a Pentagon project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, told 60 Minutes: “Imagine a technology…that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water and possibly space. And oh, by the way, has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces….That’s precisely what we’re seeing.”

Former navy pilot Ryan Graves said his squadron had been seeing ‘unidentified aerial phenomena’ over restricted airspace above Virginia since 2014, “every day for at least a couple years.” Three films shot by the pilots were later leaked to The New York Times.

In June last year, the Senate intelligence committee ordered an unclassified report on UFOs. Senior administration officials were recently privately briefed on its findings, as revealed by the New York Times. The report is due to be publicly released by the end of June, though it will include a classified section, possibly revealing evidence picked up by spy satellites.

In March, former intelligence director John Ratcliffe said “we are talking about objects that have been seen by navy or air force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery.” Radcliffe said: “there have been sightings all over the world… there’s actually quite a few more than have been made public.”

“Not willing to look at the problem in the face”

These incidents, more than 120 of them over the past two decades, have three possible explanations. They could be secret US projects, though it’s believed the report eliminates this. They could be foreign incursions, or they could be technology from beyond Earth – the report is non-committal about both options. Sober-minded folk discussing these possibilities include former President Obama, who commented on the objects last month.

Whatever their origin, the objects raise questions about how the US should respond. Ryan Graves told 60 Minutes that if foreign jets were breaking into restricted airspace it would be “a massive issue”. He suggests that “because it looks slightly different, we’re not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day.” The alternative, crazy as it sounds, is that America may need to engage with a dismissive something that is reluctant to communicate and which comes and goes at will. Anyone with a teenager should be able to help.

The search for understanding

America’s reluctance to meet the problem head on perhaps stems from a lack of understanding of what’s happening. This sense of absence, and the powerless it fosters, could easily lead to tension. In decades gone by, there would have been talk about fighting back. However the Biden administration’s softly-softly approach seems to focus on a search for understanding, more than an immediate desire to respond. In defusing tension, whether at an international level or in our own relationships with others, a search for understanding is a good place to start.

A 2017 survey found that the leading source of tension in the workplace was interpersonal relationships. Since then, Covid has exacerbated levels of anxiety.  During the pandemic, four in 10 US adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, four times more than in 2019. In December 2020 more than 42% of Americans surveyed by the Census Bureau reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, up from 11% in 2019. Clinical psychologist Luana Marques, said: “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon.”

At the same time, more people began working from home. Before Covid, only 20% of US homeworkers had previously been working from home all or most of the time. By December 2020, that number had risen to 71%. Relationships at work are often virtual, communication is less easy than it was. Amid rising anxiety and changing circumstances at work, even communicating with those at home has become harder. US divorce agreement sales increased 34% last year.

Keeping a cool head

What can you do when communication breaks down? In our eLearning Learnflix course on Conflict Resolution, we understand that it’s natural to feel irritated or defensive and to respond with emotion. But by recognising that you’re in a difficult conversation and stepping back from emotion, it’ll be easier to see the bigger picture. You might see where you may have taken a wrong step.

Recognition cools the heat of the moment, softens language and makes it easier to hold on to rational thoughts. A calm sense of perspective will help you focus on the issues rather than the person. And empathy will help to pave the way for calmer discussions later on, once the dust has settled. A level-headed approach helps both parties get back to normal.

Sharing the search for answers

When ‘normal’ is overturned by a continuing difficult relationship there’s no easy solution, but the following thoughts might help.

In seeking to understand what’s happening, be honest. Neither you nor the other person is exclusively responsible for a problem you both share. Equally, both of you have a duty to resolve it. You’ll discover additional common ground once you both start talking.

Calmly explain to the other person what they are doing and how it has an impact on you, again focusing only on the issues themselves. They might be unaware of the extent of the problem and could be as keen as you to resolve it. Once you have a better understanding of them and the root cause of their actions, the problem will be easier to manage.

UFOs looking to communicate might have to wait a while longer, many of us are pretty busy being alienated by life closer to home. We can’t ‘fix’ someone. But by finding mutual understanding, problems can be reduced to a manageable level. And that’s a good thing in anyone’s language.

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