Last year I ran into a situation with a joke-post I made. Social media has a way of bringing out the best in people. As someone who hates conflict (like really, really, really hates conflict) I’m glad I can remember there is good in all situations. For instance, it inspired this post as it gave me a teaching story for handling conflict. It’s also good because I can feel proud of how well I handled it. I’ll be honest, my tongue was sore from all the biting (metaphorically, I don’t have a strange tongue biting thing) because I held back what I felt like saying in order to prevent an even worse conflict. Fortunately, I now know to limit any contact with this person who is a great example of a male body part hidden by underwear that will go unnamed (you have two options; both work).
The situation started when I made a Facebook post on my personal account. I find sharing dumb moments I have to be healing and a way to help others feel better about themselves. I received a couple likes and a couple comments like I often do, but then I received this strange response. Considering the source, I wanted to assume the best, but his line of “…that’s a d*ck move, right?” felt like a jab, which leads to the first rule:
1. Clarify what’s said
I’m constantly teaching my clients to clarify what they hear because sometimes we misinterpret what’s said. Thus, I asked: “Was this a joke I didn’t get or a jab?” Notice I give a positive option to go with the negative? That’s crucial. Always give a positive to prevent the other person being as defensive. The positive is also important as seen in rule number two:
2. Assume the best of others
This person is loosely connected through family, so I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Normally I’d leave it with that question, but because I thought this would help in his reply, I added, “If you’re upset, I figured you’d send a private message.” Surprisingly, he responded by attacking me and then claiming that social media is all about being public. I was glad I was right in my initial feeling that he was attacking me, but I was furious that he could be so… so… something, which leads to the third rule:
3. Give yourself time to cool down to find the best response
Sending the first thing that comes to mind is never smart (like he did). Even if your goal is to be mean (his was), don’t send it right away because anger makes us dumb and we think of better answers when we’re calm. Thus, the fourth rule:
4. First talk to a trusted friend and/or journal.
I journalled for about thirty minutes while I considered, “Why is this person attacking me? Are they just having a bad day? Why am I so angry about this? How do I respond without making it worse for me? What does being a pushover look like in this? What will make him angrier?” Doing this I realized I was so upset because he was judging me and talking like he’s superior, which I realized is a trigger for me. The next day I responded with saying I can respect his opinion about being public, but for me it’s more appropriate to do it in a private message and then added I felt hurt as he seemed very judgemental. This connects to rule number five:
5. Use 1 Sentence to summarize your point
One sentence keeps the problem easy to follow and prevents giving information that can be used against you. A popular therapy choice is to say, “I feel (emotion) because…” as it makes it about you and not an attack. Normally when someone says, “I felt hurt…” the other person is supposed to show some kind of gentleness because you’re being vulnerable to them. Not this guy. His response was to attack again with a rant (in marriage this is a great way to head towards divorce) and concluded with, “I’m sorry you were hurt,” which is very passive aggressive after an attack.
6. Don’t be a jerk
People are mirrors. If you’re a jerk, you should assume the other person will be a jerk back. If it was the old me, I would’ve thrown off the gloves and went to town. He didn’t realize picking on me was like the bully picking on the small kid he doesn’t know has a black belt. I’m a writer who spent his formative years secretly practicing passive aggressive soul crushing attacks. I could’ve ripped him apart, but as good as that might feel for a moment, it would make me a giant jerk (like him) or lead him to ramping up his attack. Being a jerk is a lose-lose.
7. Find a way to end the fight
My guess is this guy was struggling with something and he needed to go after someone besides his wife as an outlet. The odds are he’s not going to back down because he has so much hurt build up. At the same time, I also don’t want to be a pushover. Thus, I have two healthy options: Not respond to his message and in my head say “Screw you!” or I can give a final word to clarify a misunderstanding. I went with the latter and even wrote, “Final thoughts.” Of course saying “final thoughts” meant I couldn’t respond anymore. Like always he had an attack ripped off right away. He really needs to learn to take time to consider better responses because this made him look juvenile and mentally weaker than he was; as I noted earlier: Anger makes us dumb.
Bonus: Sometimes not saying anything is more powerful
I didn’t bother even opening his final message, which he can see. This protected me from unnecessary anger. As a bonus, it’ll likely be interpreted as me saying, “You mean so little to me I can’t be bothered to read your message.” This wasn’t my intention, but the idea was very empowering for me, which is a reward I earned by always responding with gentleness and a level head unlike him who kept being a jerk. It was my way of saying, “I will not be bullied,” which is what Jesus taught (paraphrase): “Turn the other cheek because you don’t want to be a jerk back, but you’re also not afraid of the other person. You’re strong enough to handle it.”
This week may you see how to reduce conflict and give yourself something to be proud of as well.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people