Saturday, October 19, 2013


When I was growing up, I remember my Dad often saying that contention was of the devil, or a soft answer turneth away wrath.  Usually these scripture quotes were brought out after a particularly contentious discussion (most likely between my sister and me).  We were bright, active kids with limited resources living in a strict culture.  Contention was bound to happen - even without extenuating circumstances.

As an adult, however, I've inventoried what skills in my past to let go of or work on.  I've learned the importance of confrontation and conflict. With so much passive-aggression in mormonism (and particularly among women), it's rare that people say what they mean. Or that people directly ask for what they want (or express an opinion).  Some of it is cultural - for the longest time, women were not encouraged to be direct - they had to seek power through other means (manipulation, etc.)

Gourds 2013

What happens when you don't confront other people, when you don't ask for what you want (or need), usually feelings are suppressed and resentment pops up.  Resentment that you are being taken advantage of, that you aren't valued, that you are being ignored.

But sometimes confrontation is not useful.  Growing up, it seems as if the only time confronting someone was acceptable was when you were enforcing church standards.  I remember my Dad losing his temper about some kids in the church building on Sunday.  That was acceptable conflict, standing up for mormon principles.

But saying no to a calling, to the PTA, to the casserole sign up sheet, that's not socially acceptable.

Another thing that tends to happen for me with conflict is that I would build up so much anger that when the conflict (inevitably) happened, I would be too angry to listen to the other person - to negotiate.  So this is what has worked for me to learn more about confrontation:

*I determine if the conversation is necessary
If I talk with someone (like my boss) about a promotion, and they say it's not going to happen - confronting them weekly is not a good strategy.  I need to make sure that I know what's possible and what's not.  I need to make sure my expectations are reasonable.

*I determine if things are likely to change - and I figure out if I don't confront the other person, what choices I have
I'm thinking specifically of the current protests/requests for the SLC LDS church.  Many NOMs and others have determined for themselves whether or not participating in these movements is useful for them.

Sometimes confrontation can bring change,other times not. For example, if I confront my boss, will things change?  If they aren't likely to, I need to make some hard choices.

*I make sure I'm not angry
If I go into a conversation angry, it's sure to undermine my position.  I need to be as calm and rational as possible.  I'm not talking about venting or ranting, but if there is someone I legitimately need something from - getting angry at them is not useful.

*I find a good time to talk
For difficult conversations, I make sure I'm not hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT).  If I'm any of those things, I can't be focused on communicating effectively.  I need to take care of myself first, and then come back to the conversation - the next day or next week.  If it's still important, I will remember what I need to say, and what specific requests I want to make.

*Determine whether or not to discuss when something comes up or later
Sometimes it makes sense to talk about things as they happen.  But difficult conversations are not always appropriate (particularly in public).
A great example - the third time in a month my boss asks me to work overtime at the last minute. Not getting angry about it - but a solution could be to agree to working and then having a conversation about it.  I found growing up - either the conflict would happen when someone was overwhelmed and the follow up wouldn't necessarily happen.  The follow up discussion is crucial - where the employee lets the boss know that last minute requests are not okay - and works to prevent it in the future.  Setting boundaries to say it won't be okay next time.  And the next time, reminding the boss of the boundary and enforcing it.

*I focus on what's going on now (the present) and specific requests
While the past informs the present - bringing up past wrongs is not useful if I want to move forward in a relationship.  I need to focus on my direct requests today.  I need to figure out what I want (specifically) and make sure my request is reasonable.  An unreasonable request would be asking someone to stop bring themselves in some way.  It's about having an open conversation.

It's a balance. But the better I get with these skills, the more satisfied I feel with my relationships.

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

Very good points. It has actually been a long time since I have had to think about this topic. I think most contention happens at work or with family and since I am far away from all of them I rarely get sucked into it. You're right, being direct is key.