I’m not one to avoid conflict. I’ve found that, much too often, constant unanimous agreement results in substandard ideas and dispassionate forward motion.
Confrontation doesn’t scare me. I don’t avoid conflict because I’m afraid of the person I need to confront or the possible repercussions of the confrontation.
That said, there are some situations in which I choose NOT to confront someone when a conflict develops. I wrote a post earlier this week entitled “Dear PinkGirl, don’t copy me.” where I confessed to being a hypocrite because I was coaching and expecting my daughter to stand up to a passive-aggressive person in her life and I was hit with the realization that I wasn’t standing up to a passive-aggressive person in my own life. It was one of those rare occasions where I recognized the contradiction between my words and actions before she did.
In my particular situation, someone in authority over me doesn’t want there to be a confrontation and I’m committed to respecting their wishes. But PinkGirl didn’t know that.
This left me with some splainin’ to do to my daughter. (CLICK HERE to read how that conversation went.)
But this entire situation has me thinking I should explain why confrontation doesn’t make me uncomfortable.
It’s not because I’m strong, though I admit I’ve been called a “strong-willed woman” more than a few times. It’s not because I have a degree in communication and have a conflict resolution model memorized and ready to mentally fill in at any time, although I do (have it memorized and am ready to use it).
It’s because I’m desensitized.
When you spend decades bombarded with emotional outbursts, ultimatums, silent treatments and guilt trips, you adapt and create a new normal. It’s required.
Because if you don’t, no matter how hard or long you climb up, you will live a roller-coaster emotional life with every drop controlled by someone else. This new normal is stable and steady and no matter who’s controlling the coaster, you remain unaffected. It’s like standing on that little walkway that runs along side the coaster – the one reserved for the people who take care of it, instead of on the tracks. You can walk along side, at your own pace, with no need to move out of the way. The coaster can come barreling along, full speed and no matter what’s propelling it – guilt, the silent treatment, tears, anger – you are off to the side, watching, protected because you aren’t in its path.
Guilt trips do not move me to action because, from my experience, when someone is attempting to make me feel guilty, they are, in reality, trying to manipulate me. I’ve had enough manipulation. I. am. unmoved.
Not because I’m strong. Or smart. Or pragmatic.
Because I’m desensitized.
The silent treatment will backfire when used on me. I’m immune. It’s like a free pass to ignore the person who refuses to speak to me. If I ask someone what’s wrong and they say “nothing,” I will take them at their word, no matter how much they continue to mope and pout.
Tears do not move me to give in. Tears do not move me to change my mind, do something that goes against the core of what I believe, or lie to someone to help them rationalize the truth and/or avoid the consequences of their choices. In the past, tears have moved me to do all of these things.
When someone cries in front of me, especially someone with whom I’m involved a work relationship, I see two possibilities: (1) they are upset and they need a few minutes to compose themselves. (2) they are trying manipulate me (consciously or subconsciously) and get their way by eliciting sympathy from me.
Either way, my standard response is to sincerely tell the person who is crying that I’m sorry they are upset and give them a few minutes to compose themselves. And I really am sorry that they are upset, I just don’t believe I’m responsible for making them happy by doing what they want.
(This is only when someone wants something from me, I’m not saying that I’ve never done something I need to apologize for, because I have no problem apologizing when I’m wrong. The “splainin’ I did to PinkGirl about this included an “I was wrong and I’m sorry.” again, CLICK HERE to read how that went.)
Anger does not move me. When someone displays what appears to be an uncontrollable outburst of anger, spewing acrimonious language and accusations and sometimes even profanity?
I see them as weak. Unreasonable.
To be honest, when I’m blindsided by a verbal attack from someone I respect, my initial, internal reaction is to be defensive. I’m human. I want to “right back atcha.” But it’s fleeting. It’s a flash of adrenaline and then I let it go. Because I absolutely refuse to emulate the person who taught me that uncontrolled displays of anger are a sign of weakness. A tantrum is an irrational waste of time and counter-productive to ANY goal or healthy relationship. When my children had a tantrum, I usually had one of two things to say. Picture it:
In Walmart. Somebody wants something I’ve said they can’t have. The tantrum begins. People walking by. Staring. Sympathetic looks. Disapproving, “can’t you shut that kid up” looks. Me, leaning on the cart, elbow on the handle, chin in my hands. Waiting patiently. After a few moments, during a break in the screaming while the tantrum thrower takes a breath, I ask, “Are you done yet?” or “Is this working for you? Cause it’s not really working for me.” Sometimes, after asking “Are you done yet?” the kiddo would wail, “NOOoooooo!”
Okay then. (Just to confirm – the tantrum did not move me to buy anything.)
Because I see uncontrolled outbursts of anger as a sign of weakness, I’m able to give tantrum throwers grace. I usually don’t take it personally. When someone has an explosive outburst, I figure I’m the least of their problems. If I’m dealing with a child, I’ve got some serious character building opportunities and I usually take advantage of them if I can.
If I’m dealing with an adult, I tend to feel sorry for them. Any adult who handles a problem by throwing a tantrum probably isn’t throwing one for the first time. Somewhere along the line, it’s worked for them before and they’ve developed a pattern of behavior. Just like me. It’s just that our patterns of behavior are on opposite sides of the emotional scale.
There are a few adults in my life from whom I’ve come to expect such an attack. Those attacks are easy to deflect. Since I expect them, I’m prepped and ready.
You can probably guess that I don’t respect any of these behaviors and I can’t stomach any of them in myself. I don’t use guilt as a negotiation tool. I don’t cry or mope in front of someone who has the power to change my circumstance. I don’t gossip to garner support for my cause instead of talking directly to the people who have the authority to make decisions. I don’t scream or curse at people, no matter what they do.
But, as I explained in my post earlier this week, entitled “taut [tawt] adjective: emotionally or mentally strained or tense” it’s not because I stifle the emotions that lead to these behaviors. It’s just that, on an emotional scale of 1 to 10, I normally operate at about a 1 or a 2. I’m standing on the walkway next to the emotional roller coaster.
I’m 47. This “lowered emotional state” is deeply rooted in my personality. Not many people get this about me without feeling sorry for me. Like I’m missing something or need to be “cured.” But keep in mind, it’s not that I’m incapable of emotion, just that I usually don’t let things get to me. I don’t want to be “cured.” I’m not missing anything. I’ve just had more than my fair share of high emotion already.
I like the calmness.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.