Walking like a one man army, Fighting shadows in your head Living out the same old moment Knowing you'd be better off instead, If you could only... Say what you need to say ~John Mayer, "Say What You Need to Say"
I recently heard this John Mayer song, and it was so wonderful to understand – once again – that I am not the only person who has struggled with saying what I need to say. I spent most of my life constantly evaluating the response I might get if I said what I really wanted to say. Much of the time, fear of the other person’s possible reaction kept me silent.
Just this morning I was fighting this demon (fear of how I will be perceived by the other person) once again. I have been having my website redesigned and rebuilt. It has been a slow process. I am concerned – not for the first time in the process, and for valid reasons – that the delivery date will not be met.
When I raised this concern on a call with the project manager, he gave me platitudes and tried to spin the fact that the design phase was behind schedule. He also seemed frustrated with my ongoing nervousness about the delivery date, and asked me to “let them manage the internal process.”
In the moment, I reacted to him telling me that I was overstepping my bounds by retreating. But upon reflection I knew that I had a valid concern, and that it had not been adequately addressed.
I decided I would email the company founder about my concern, and ask for assurance that the final delivery date would be met. As I contemplated this email, I became more and more anxious. I tried to understand what I was afraid of, and realized that I did not want to be perceived as demanding, and I was afraid that is what the founder would think of me.
Once I became clear on my fear, it was easy enough for me to realize that whether the founder (or the project manager) thinks I am too demanding or high maintenance doesn’t really matter to me.
Yes, I would prefer they think of me as cooperative and likeable, but they are there to do a job for me, and are being paid well to do so. If they decide I’m being too demanding when I hold them accountable for the contracted work, then that says more about them than it does about me.
Throughout my life I have let my fear of not being liked (which translated to being a “bad person” in my mind) keep me from saying what is true. Like the quote above, “Living with shadows in your head,” I would spend hours in my head running scenarios rather than just address the issue head-on.
Over the past year I have become clear that confronting a problem when it first arises is much better for me in the long run for the following reasons:
- Once the words are spoken it is over and done with. I don’t spend days, weeks, or months thinking about the situation that is bothering me. Living through the moments of fear prior to the confrontation is preferable to all the time spent not dealing with the issue.
- I can deal with the reality of the other person’s reaction.Much of the mental spinning that prevented me from actually saying what I needed to say, revolved around imagining how the other person would react. Of course I always imagined the worst. Now, once I say my piece, I don’t have to guess about the other person’s reaction. I am now dealing with reality rather than my imagination.
- Side benefit: I get evidence that people don’t always react negatively when I raise an issue. I can use this evidence in the future when I fall back into the trap of imagining a negative reaction.
- When I address an issue early on, I tend to be less emotional about it, which leads to communicating in a better way. When I let my resentment or worries about a particular situation fester, I tend to blow things way out of proportion. Basically, I would hold things in until I couldn’t stand it anymore, then I would explode. This obviously is not the best way to end up with a win-win solution to a conflict.