Hard conversations

I’ve had to deal with quite a difficult person, lately, and observing him, I realized something that I had never considered until then. This guy’s dominant behavior is the escape of difficult or uncomfortable situations. This is an extreme feature, and he will comply to it even when it feels completely inappropriate to me. There is no judgment of value here, simply an observation of his behavior, although it is exorbitant in his case. He will never face a hard situation, talk through a disagreement, but rather avoid the subject, lie, deny his own principles, or physically leave.

This guy started doing something I was highly disagreeing with, and I told him a couple of days later that it was bothering me. It was quite a hard conversation, since I had to put a stop to something he was already doing, and was in the process of doing as I was talking to him. It was not an easy discussion about a hypothetical disagreement we could have in the future.

His immediate reaction was to talk to me very coldly, and to leave. Given the context, his departure was at least semi-permanent, that was clear for both of us. As he was about to slam the door, he yelled at me, making definitive judgments on my person, didn’t give me the opportunity to reply, and fled.

I realize now that this last outburst was clearly not good for him. I first thought that it would maybe help him move in the direction of confronting his own fears, since he spoke up instead of avoiding the conflict. But I now believe that I’m wrong about this. He told me this without letting me answer him, and knowing that we would not see each other again, at least in the foreseeable future. He actually only gave himself what he needed to emotionally fuel his fled. It was completely part of his usual avoidance of hard situations.

That made me realize that speaking the hard truth, going against social norms to tell someone how we feel is not the automatic right option. We can definitely do it with the wrong intention. The desirable situation is one where we can feel good about both parties sharing a certain knowledge about the situation.

That means, if we disagree with someone, getting to a place where we both know we will never agree, but we know that and are able to be around each other : the situation is stable.

If we really can’t agree, let’s say for example that someone is working on your project and he is not doing a good job. You need to tell him he is not good at his job, and fire him. That’s a hard thing to do, where it would feel easier to just fire him through a very automated process and never speak to him again. But if we can show him, using methodical arguments, how he is unarguably not good enough, we can get to a situation where things are balanced. We could see him a week later and feel perfectly good about the interaction. I’m not saying that person will not be bitter about being laid off, but we know we treated him with respect and based our decision on solid ground. That’s enough to be content.

What we ought to do, then, is seek resolve, and if a hard conversation is needed to get there, let’s have it.

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