We Can’t Control How Others Respond
This is a spinoff of a recent post about talking about hard things.
I wanted to spend some time elaborating on this, though, because it’s really critical to embrace.
Talking Doesn’t Always Fix Things
*GASP* “Blasphemy!” “The horrorrrrrrrr!” (Especially coming from a counselor).
Yes, I know. But it’s true. Talking doesn’t always fix things, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk!
Here’s what we mean.
Frankly, we can’t control how the conversation goes. We can’t control the way it unfolds or the intensity of others. Furthermore, there are cases when talking about things makes it worse (if you’re not talking about the ‘thing’ that needs to be talked about, or if you’re trying to talk to somebody who’s overwhelmed and on the verge of shutting down, or if you’re approaching conflict with a person who’s conflict avoidant - all recipes for unhelpful discussions). Long story short: we cannot control how other people respond.
Control We DO Have and Why We Should Talk Anyway
Here’s what we can control, though.
- The way we say things.
This ties in with a recent post about saying hard things. I’m sure there was some variation in that post, but I’ll say it again - the language we use and how we say things is SUPER IMPORTANT. As in, way more important than we probably realize. The way we say things is so significant in how we can be received by others, which means that it’s worth being intentional about.
- The way we react and respond.
Look, just because we say something in the “right” way doesn’t mean it’s going to be taken well. I mean, that sucks, but it’s the truth. We can be honest and only speak from our experience, but sometimes honesty is hard to here. And if a person is prone to defensiveness or stonewalling, then you might get that as a response (which doesn’t necessarily reflect that you’ve done something ‘wrong’).
Additionally, and importantly, what you can do in those situations is say something to the effect of, “Hey, person, I’m sorry if this is hard to talk about. I’m not trying to attack you. I just want to share how I’m feeling.” Or something like, “Wow, person, I didn’t realize this would be so hard to discuss. Why don’t we try to talk about it later, after we’ve both cooled off?” Both are non-defensive to what the other is saying.
- Our level of defensiveness and ownership.
This really ties in with the previous point, but is worth mentioning again. If somebody responds in a way we don’t expect, such as with a jab, with defensiveness, or by shutting down, that doesn’t mean we should respond in the same manner. One thing about conversations is that in order for them to get really out of control, both parties have to participate. So, if you’re unwilling to play the game, so to speak, then it’s not going to get really out of control. That might mean walking away to recalibrate, but that’s better than screaming or throwing out things you can’t take back.
- Acting in integrity and being honest.
This is the last piece and sums up the rest (in a different way). The reality is that it’s up to us to “speak our truth” (#ThanksJimAndPam), and what that does for us, even if the person doesn’t respond in a desirable way, is that it gives us a hook to hang our hat on. It allows us to reflect back and say, “you know what, self, I did what I could, I kept my cool, I was respectful, and I was honest. There wasn’t anything else I could say.” Furthermore, then you know (with almost certainty) that the problem is probably more reflective of the other person than it is of you. Food for thought.
Even though we have little (read: no) control over others, it’s pretty damn awesome the things we do have control of. My vote is that we focus on those and, similar to you wanting to have and voice your own experience, let other people have their own experience. This sucky part is that sometimes another person’s experience may involve you being the “bad guy.” Which is another post and another story, but this is a good start.