Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to Speak Honestly and Gently During Confrontation

An argument... by Tambako the Jaguar, cc license
I had a confrontation with some roofers during the Summer. They were repairing the roof on a neighbor's house. We don't have what you would call backyards, but the back of the neighbor's house abuts a strip of our non-yard which is home to a couple of trees, two azaleas  a rose of Sharon  and our compost heap. It's not much to look at, and at the height of the Summer it was overgrown with weeds, but I have plans to convert it into a lovely outdoor space over the next couple of years.

We woke to the roofers beginning demolition and tossing debris onto our homely strip of ground. Totally understandable - the old roofing had to go somewhere and there wasn't much space. I did, however, ask Jason to go out (I was still in my PJs) and ask that they were careful not to smash the azaleas and rose of Sharon (big plans for those guys!). He did so and the roofers were quick to assure him they'd clean everything up when they were done. Not really a fitting reply, but whatever. You see where this is going?

In the afternoon, Cadence and I returned from some blessedly air-conditioned location and she immediately ran to the back of the house to check out the workers she could hear. At my appearance, one of the roofers immediately said that they had already been yelled at by my husband and not to worry, that they would clean up everything. I began to say that, no, it's all good, my daughter was just curious to see what was going on - but then I saw our bushes and stopped. The azaleas were littered with roof tiles and two main branches of the rose of Sharon were broken in half.

My fight-or-flight response engaged. I wanted to either take this guy's head off or run back into our house and wait for them to go away. Instead I took a deep breath and pointed to the damaged flora, explaining that  Jason had asked that they avoid crushing those three bushes and that it now appeared that request had been completely disregarded. I was quiet and listened as the man blustered. He insisted that he had done lots of work in our area and that the back yard areas like ours were typically just used as places to hold trash and that he assumed, indicating the weeds and disorderly state of the area, that it was no different for us. Ouch. I told him that that hurt, that I was somewhat embarrassed by the way it looked at the moment, and that he had assumed incorrectly. I told him that making assumptions had been uneccesary, since we had been home and he could have checked in with us at any time to let us know how he needed to use the area. He continued to explain they way they worked and why he didn't feel it was necessary to have done anything differently. Several times, he used the phrase, "I'm sorry, but..." After a bit, I interrupted him and just stated that I was upset because they had disrespected my husband and our home and that I felt he was just offering excuses that I was no longer willing to hear. He promised, again, that they would clean up when they were done and that they would cause no more damage. I can't recall whether I said anything else; that was the end of it and I returned inside with Cadence, my heart continuing to pound.

I can think of many emotionally charged instances where I was not so gentle and had to then deal with the fallout of my outburst. I can think of even more times when I didn't say anything in a situation that didn't sit right with me and then beat myself for my silence. This is one of the few moments of grace that I can look at and say, "Yes, I was honest, and yes, I was gentle." I've reflected on that incident often, studying it and dissecting it in hopes of perpetuating it.

So how do you speak honestly and gently in emotionally charged confrontations? Here's what I've got:

  1. Breathe. Deeply. And often. There is nothing more calming and centering than feeling your lungs with oxygen.
  2. State the facts. Simply acknowledging that which is obviously true to both of you puts you on the same page - or reveals why you're not on the same page if you do not share the same reality. 
  3. Stick close to your feelings. Notice how you're feeling and share it. Saying aloud and owning your feelings (i.e., "I'm feeling..." not "You're making me feel...") is cathartic and honest without being an attack. And while it sometimes may be helpful, you don't have to explain or justify why you feel the way you do. 
  4. Listen. Say your peace quickly and then spend time being quiet. Breathe and listen. Resist the urge to plan your next statement and just hear what the other person is saying. 
  5. State what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do. Be kind, but be firm. 
Practice. Rinse. Repeat. 

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