“Please don’t say anything,” she implored me right after completing a 10 minute dissertation on her daily struggles with two of her coworkers.
In my day job I have frequently found myself on the receiving end of lengthy critiques of people by their coworkers who painstakingly described to me the outlandish behaviors of these people and yet, almost without exception, once they have completely trashed their colleagues, end their tirade with a request for my silence.
I always ask them whether they have ever voiced their concerns to the person in question and invariably the answer is, “No.”
I just don’t get it.
These folks who talk to me know that my role in their company is not that of a counselor or a peacekeeper – it is to provide some form of agreed-upon coaching or to implement a new behavioural norm – and, indeed, many have confided that their reason for talking to me is because it is “safe.”
“Safe” does not solve problems, resolve conflict or contribute anything to encourage those who are being criticized to change their behavior.
As mentioned, I just don’t get it.
I’m not sure what these folks hope to accomplish in talking to me and then tying my hands. I wouldn’t, for even a nanosecond, consider intervening on their behalf but listening to them begging me not to say anything and knowing full well they have no intention of addressing these issues themselves, I cannot for the life of me fathom how they can have any hope of the situation changing.
I realize that it is far easier to not have awkward conversations than to have them but I also know that if we do not address issues of concern to us, we have no one but ourselves to blame for their continuance.
Perhaps the cathartic relief experienced by talking to others serves to sustain these folks for a period of time and enables them to “put up” with the alleged behavior of their colleagues but it is, in my opinion, a poor and self-defeating method of dealing with conflict.
These very same people who share their concerns with me do so also with a select group of friends, family and colleagues. The risk they run is that over time these “good listeners” will become “worn down” by hearing the same story over and over again.
Many of these folks have shared with me the fear of confronting those they have been talking about – even more so if it is their boss – and have resigned themselves to “just putting up with it.”
This is a terrible solution. Yes, I’m fully aware of all the risks of directly addressing this conflict and that those risks are compounded when the parties to the conflict do not all share the same status in the corporate hierarchy, but the risk of doing nothing is far, far greater.
The ongoing stress, the frustration, the anger and the ever-increasing sense of helplessness will eventually exact a toll far greater than any consequence that could result from directly addressing concerns with the people involved.
A psychologist friend of mine has frequently shared her own frustrations at some of her clients who spend their sessions with her complaining about others and yet, absolutely refuse – for reasons well rationalized to themselves – to address these issues with them.
She believes, as do I, that we all need to become “adults” when dealing with these matters which means sitting down with those folks and in a calm and objective manner, discussing their behaviors – and only those behaviors – that are of concern.
The meeting may not go as well as hoped for but the boost to our self-confidence and self-esteem will more than compensate for any “lumps” that we take from the meeting.
Short-term pain – no matter how unbearable and excruciating – is always much better than the long-term agony of death by a thousand cuts.
Till we read again.
P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at www.lifesinksorsoars.com and let me know what you think.
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