The other day I had a conflict with a colleague. The details don’t matter. I’ll just say that I was unhappy with something that the other person—let’s call him or her Z—had done. I expressed my displeasure somewhat peevishly. Z had less generous terms for my tone of voice and got defensive and—in my opinion—a bit mean with their retort.
So now what?
For most of my life, whenever I was involved in an argument, I tended to assume it was my fault. I always envied those people who could smoothly blame others and boldly deny any responsibility of their own. There were even a couple of times when I was younger when someone accused me of doing something I knew I hadn’t done, and yet I actually wondered for a moment if had done it.
I’ve definitely come a long way since then, but conflict does make me uncomfortable. So, I asked myself, what should I do in this situation? It came down to four things I’ve learned over the years.
- I recognized where I’d made my first mistake. A friend told me once that she made it a rule never to express emotions over email. She’s right. I should have called Z and had a conversation instead of spouting off over the internet, which invited Z to spout further.
- I cooled off before leaping to further action. If I’d responded immediately to Z’s email, the situation would only have escalated.
- I asked myself what part of this disagreement was mine to shoulder and what wasn’t. I’ve learned this practice over the years, especially in some good friendships where we’ve been able to share personal hurt or anger. We speak honestly to each other about our feelings. Then we acknowledge where we’ve each made a mistake, yet we don’t take the blame for what isn’t ours to take. In this case, I acknowledged my unfortunate means of communication and my annoying tone, but not the motive behind that tone that Z accused me of.
- I contacted Z—yes, by email, but this time it seemed urgent and Z lives half a world out of my time zone—and apologized for my tone. When we spoke on the phone the next day, I immediately asked if we needed to say anything else to each other. We each accepted some responsibility for the problem. I would say our working relationship is even stronger.
For many of us, it’s difficult to have an argument. I’m always afraid that the friendship or working relationship will end forever if we disagree, and sometimes it has. There’s an added problem if you’re the kind of person who takes all the blame and the other person is the kind who blames others. Maybe arguing never gets completely easy. But for me, I felt I’d evolved with this one!
What I’m reading
Finally I’m reading The Kiterunner by Khaled Hosseini, a best-seller years ago and highly recommended by a lot of people whose literary opinions I trust. It takes place in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and then again in the summer of 2001. It’s a novel of how class, race, and the very personality you’re born with can stamp your life forever. It’s about how a moment of pride or an urge to please the unpleasable can destroy something precious. It’s about redemption the hard way. And it makes you, the reader realize that the ways Afghanis suffer, in the pages of novel, under siege by the Russians and the Taliban is only going to get worse with the war launched by the U.S.
When my husband and I got out of our car at the supermarket today, I glanced into the window of the car parked next to us. The motor was running. A man and woman sat in the front seat. The man held in his lap a small vase containing a variety of colorful flowers, perhaps just purchased from the florist inside the store. He had a huge grin on his face.
Unless the government shutdown shuts down airports or blizzards ice over the eastern U.S. and Britain, I leave for England on January 29thto do a program with artgym. It’s a mix of all the things that have preoccupied me and that I’ve written about over many years and I’m honored for the opportunity.
And—again—if you’ve read my new book, will you write a review of it for Amazon or Goodreads? I would really appreciate it!