Don’t flee from problems
Our brains are engineered to keep us out of harm’s way. In lieu of more rudimentary defense mechanisms, humans have evolved to sense danger with every interaction. Quite naturally we’ve learned to recognize reasonable threats in order to flee the scene — or fight to the death. The expression “walking on eggshells” describes a common method of side-stepping potential conflict, by disengaging from the dispute in order to keep the proverbial peace.
We do it to avoid danger with our families, friends and colleagues — but in fact, it doesn’t work. Over time, it actually has the entirely opposite effect. By disengaging in this way, we inadvertently foster a dynamic that promotes progressive instability. The conflict remains, if only under the surface. Tip-toeing around it does little to resolve festering differences. On the contrary, more often than not, this passive-aggressive tactic usually results in compounding issues that only widen rifts and perpetuate disharmony.
Stop doing that — it’s not working.
Try this instead: If the odor from the elephant in the room has become too obnoxious to ignore, stop pretending it’s not there. That’s not helping. I have a theory about why things go awry between people. Usually, things go badly for one of three possible reasons: 1) ignorance, 2) negligence or 3) malice. Offenders 1) simply don’t know, 2) know and don’t care, or 3) intend to harm. Approaching conflict with this simple filter often helps to frame the conversation.
The next time you find yourself walking on eggshells, try taking a deep breath and owning up to it. Acknowledge to yourself, “I am aware of this situation. I can see that my attempts to disengage have not helped to resolve this conflict. In my heart, I truly seek to see this situation improve — not just for me, but for all parties. If I approach this with authenticity and a sincere desire to bring about a mutually beneficial resolution, I can feel confident that I did my part to bring about positive change — no matter the outcome.”
In a non-confrontational manner, be transparent with those you intend to reconcile. State openly and plainly, “Hey, I’d like to speak with you about something that’s been on my mind lately. In all honesty, I’ve been avoiding it, but I can see that hasn’t been a good approach, and I’d like to circle back with you about it. [This situation] appears to be [happening], and I’d like to get a little clarity with you about how that’s affecting [me, us, the team, production, etc.]. I’d like to see if we can work through this together — try to figure it out so we can both feel good about moving in a forward direction.”
That’s a mouthful, so practice a bit. First, get clarity on how you feel (angry, disappointed, hurt, traumatized, sad, confused, betrayed, etc.). Take some time to really feel whatever you’re feeling so that you’re able to talk about it later, meta-cognitively (like an out of body experience) and somewhat objectively with someone else.
I’m not against experiencing emotion openly, but the reality is that in a situation like this, we need to be able to articulate our experience in a way that promotes dialogue. What I can only describe as “excessive emotion” may hinder the communication process, especially if your recipient isn’t equipped to interpret your feelings appropriately. Try to gauge how the person you intend to communicate with will react if you break down; it may promote bringing the two of you closer — or it may backfire, so try to work through that first.
I do a lot of work with families and businesses around operational systems. When there’s conflict, it’s usually because there’s an elephant (or several) in the room that nobody is talking about. When people disengage, it’s because they hope to avoid confrontation and evade danger. However, ultimately, things only get better when the elephants are named, all parties are called out, and everyone agrees to move forward — together.
Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of Intentional Solutions, delivering hands-on organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students, and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 970.366.2532, email Evan@MyIntentionalSolutions.com, visit http://www.ClutterFreeRevolution.com or become a friend at http://www.facebook.com/EvanZislis. Read Evan’s bestselling new book ClutterFree Revolution, available on Amazon.
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.