Tag Archives: conflict

Say What You Need to Say: 3 Benefits of Speaking Your Truth

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    1. 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.
  3. 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.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

My next door neighbors have two miniature greyhounds.  I’m sure they are very nice dogs, but they bark. Every time they go out into the backyard.  My computer is in the kitchen, which is at the back of the house, so I spend a lot of time there.  My bedroom is also at the back of the house.  You can see where I’m going with this.

A little over a month ago I finally got annoyed enough, after being woken up once again by the barking, to talk with my neighbor about this problem.  He and his wife are a nice young couple and have lived in the house for a couple of years.  I told him that the barking had become a problem, and he said they would figure something out.

The barking subsided for the most part, and after two weeks of not much barking I left a thank you card for the neighbors and dog treats for the dogs.  Goodwill.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last.  I’ve noticed over the past week that the barking is back to the level it was before we had the conversation, and twice I’ve been woken up by barking, most recently last night.

I obviously have to talk to them about it again.  I hate conflict.  Really, I do.  My pattern with conflict is usually that I avoid the discussion. I hope the problem will go away, or I try to tolerate it. I examine over and over whether my complaint or concern will be perceived as a valid one. If someone approaches me with a conflict, I usually accommodate them.

And when I just can’t stand whatever it is any longer, I explode. After all the avoiding, tolerating and accommodating, the pressure builds up and I get really angry.  Sometimes way out of proportion to whatever the issues is.  I would like to be more comfortable with approaching a conflict in the early stages before I’m ready to explode.

Last night after I was awoken by the barking for the second time this week. I laid in bed thinking about talking with my neighbor – again – about this problem.  I felt angry that I needed to talk to them again. Why couldn’t they have just kept doing whatever they had been doing for the past month?

I felt angry that they were so inconsiderate to allow their dog out at 11 o’clock at night.  It seems like common sense that when our houses are less than 10 feet apart, and the doggy door opens right next to my bedroom, that you would not let your dogs out that late.

I felt anxious about talking to them about the dogs barking again, even though I have a valid reason. I considered calling instead of going in person (kind of distancing).  I considered leaving a note (definitely distancing).  But I know that I need to speak to them in person.

It took me a while to go back to sleep.  Not because the dogs woke me up, but because I got upset about being woken up.  To begin with, I was angry that it was even an issue.  Then I slipped into worrying about talking with my neighbors about the problem.  After I went back to sleep I even had dreams about it.

This is silly!  It’s just a conversation with my neighbors, and even if they are unhappy about what I have to say the worst that could happen is that they will not make any changes in what they do with their dogs, and that they will be angry with me.

This last part, them being angry with me, is the core of my anxiety about conflict not just with the neighbors, but with anyone.  It is a very deep-seated fear for me; it feels emotionally unsafe for others to be angry at me – I will be abandoned, rejected or hurt in some other way.

I understand some of the reasons I have this fear, yet understanding why does not change those feelings.  I believe that the only thing that will change this fear is putting myself in situations where others may be angry with me, and dealing with the results.  This is part of being authentic and speaking my truth.

In many cases I will not be abandoned or rejected for approaching conflict with someone else.  In fact, they may not be angry at all.  In other cases my older experiences may be repeated where I am rejected because someone is angry at me. Intellectually I know that this does not make me wrong or bad, and I need practice and experience of detaching from others’ reactions. Truly knowing and accepting that their reaction has nothing to do with who I am as a person or whether I am a good or valuable human.

This is big practice for me.  But if I am truly committed to being authentic, then it is practice I must do.  I must say what is true for me and ask for what I need, even when I fear the other person’s reaction.  As long as I act with authenticity, love and compassion I can let others own and take responsibility for their own emotions.