In our daily interactions with the world, we make conscious and subconscious decisions to engage with people or our surroundings in some way, or not. We may notice some litter in our path and choose to pick it up; observe someone struggling to lift their groceries into the trunk and offer to help; sense that someone you care about is coming emotionally unglued and inquire if “everything is OK?”.
There are many instances when we decide not to connect with someone directly, because we believe that some uncomfortable emotions will arise, on their part or ours, and we don’t want to be exposed to that. Most of us are masterful at creating excuses for not addressing issues in a straightforward, constructive way, and typically have a ‘go-to’ story that we employ. “I’ve got to go to work…”, “That’s not my problem…”, “She needs to be the one to approach me…”
And yet, time and again we find out that ignoring an issue rarely results in it getting solved, and almost always produces an outcome that all the parties involved are unhappy with. Along the way, while we are busy not addressing things, we are struggling with the anxiety, anger, fear, etc. that arises when issues stay unresolved. Missing conversations are the source of so much suffering, and we regularly fail to see that important things left unsaid are destructive to relationships over time. What is even more unfortunate is that the majority of times, if we just spoke our truth (“I can’t make it to your party”, “I’m not ready for this next step”, “I can’t afford it”), the issue would get quickly resolved and everyone could move forward. When we delay responding to a request or an offer, or addressing an ongoing concern, it leaves the other person in a position of not knowing what is going on or what you are thinking, and then free to create their own story about it (and it’s usually not a good story).
On the flip side, moving into the discomfort of discussing something that may produce disappointment, concern or any other kind of ‘negative’ reaction, has the potential to nurture relationships in ways that we cannot see at the moment – but will be grateful for down the road. This kind of risk taking supports the essential building block of valued relationships – trust.
A few years back I heard a mentor of mine use this phrase and it has stuck with me since, “The way we talk about this will be essential to the outcome.” He offers this when he knows that he will be involved in a conversation that has lots of emotion attached to it. By inserting that into the discussion at the start, we acknowledge that this may be difficult and that we are committed to bringing our best selves to the back and forth. It’s a bit like the signs we see in construction zones that instruct drivers to Slow Down, Be Careful, Pay Attention – or someone is going to get hurt.
The next time you suspect that you are avoiding directly addressing a concern with someone, see if there is a story you have created around why. Then ask yourself a few more questions:
– is avoiding this serving me?
– what are the costs of not addressing it?
– what steps would I need to take to get this cleared up and do I need help?