A few years ago, I lost a beautiful friendship. Mostly because I was too terrified to have a difficult conversation with her.
This friend was particularly precious to me. We’d enjoyed 7 years of a growing, beautiful and ever-deepening friendship. We talked almost daily, sharing just about all our challenges, and gladnesses, with loud cheering for each other with each little triumph.
I couldn’t wait for our long lunches and coffee-dates, where we would ‘solve world peace’ and have the most profound insights and ideas spark off each other’s shares.
Precious, inspiring and full of heart.
One day, there was an unfortunate misunderstanding. A rather public one. I put my foot in it, so to speak, on a public forum, and the more I tried to set it right, the worse I seemed to make it. I felt more and more frazzled and unable to do the right thing.
She has a very strong, direct, assertive way of dealing with a problem. And at the time, I was more likely to run away at the first sign of friction, unhappiness or conflict. To make it worse, she was particularly stressed due to financial matters and had a very short fuse.
All my efforts to patch things up had absolutely zero effect. I was completely unable to handle any anger or the thought of her being upset with me. I avoided a direct conversation. I can clearly remember how my fingers literally trembled from anxiety when she sent me a text message that sounded irritable and angry.
I was petrified of conflict, of anyone being angry with me, and wanted to smooth things over and go back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible.
Alas. That’s not where she was at.
She wanted to confront this thing head-on, voice her anger and dissatisfaction and express her emotion.
I was off in lala-land, desperately wanted to reverse the clock, and without a single idea of how to handle this.
It went on for a couple of very unpleasant weeks. Probably around 2, even though it felt like a lifetime because it was so painful and scary for me. “Why couldn’t we just put this behind us,” I thought, “and carry on again like just 2 weeks before???”
In the end, the friendship came to a very unpleasant, puzzling end. I mulled over this for months. Years, actually. “What went wrong? Why couldn’t we fix it? We both make a living in personal development – why could we not get past this particular challenge? WTF…”
While I believe that there is usually not one single reason for ANYTHING, (the Universe is simply too complex for that!), I do know without a shadow of a doubt that if I’d been able to have even one difficult conversation with her, we could have gone a long way to resolve the situation.
I was not able to meet her where she was at. She felt betrayed, hurt, angry and wanted to voice that. I was too afraid to be on the receiving end of that anger and emotion. It felt like I couldn’t risk giving her that chance. It felt far too threatening for me. You do know about the limbic brain and what it causes, don’t you? (Here’s a clue – fight, flight, freeze…)
I realise now, years later, how important it was to her at the time to voice how she was feeling. If she’d been able to say it to me, and if I’d been able to really HEAR her without wanting to defend or justify, most of the angry energy would have dissipated and we could perhaps have gone on to repair our relationship.
Perhaps. Because I truly can’t predict what would have happened. Sometimes, the Universe has other plans for us.
About 2 years after that very painful loss, I experienced a similar situation.
Another precious friend, who went into a rage about something I did. Once again, I couldn’t face a conversation. Guess what? I’m sad to admit that another friendship came to an end.
And that’s why….
Because of those losses, it has become incredibly important to me to understand and manage potential conflict.
Often, we fear the conflict that might ensue. And the truth is, if we can have a conversation about a difficult situation, the conflict might not even have to happen. Understanding and respect could follow instead.
Have you been there? Where potential conflict feels so threatening that you avoid having that tough conversation?
What has it cost you?
Stop, and think about it carefully. There ALWAYS is a cost. Avoidance is expensive.
Sometimes we lose the potential for more intimacy, and knowing our partner better. Sometimes we lose friendships. Other times we lose self-respect. Or we lose out on the opportunity for the OTHER person to understand US, and what makes us happy or unhappy. Or…. if it’s a person we’re trying to please, above, else, above ourselves, all the time – we miss the opportunity to discover WHY we behave like that. So we don’t get to grow. We get to stay the same, small, in our little box of comfort.
Learning opportunity – Online Workshop
If you want to learn how to have those conversations that seem too threatening or scary, or full of potential conflict, our brand new workshop might be just right for you.
How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Courage
My colleague Alison Gitelson and I, are hosting this together for a great, well-rounded experience. Alison is extremely skilled in the practical side of communication and conflict management. And I’m gifted in the management of the emotional components.
We warmly invite you to participate in this 3-part workshop starting June 27 2018, where you’ll learn valuable, practical strategies to have a difficult conversation with courage – AND you’ll learn how to manage and minimize the stress around the emotional aspects. We’ll explain exactly what happens in the limbic (emotional) brain, how to get past it, and the practical ingredients and steps to having such a conversation.
For questions, there’s a handy form at the bottom.