Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Conflict

Courageous Conversations

Life imitating art...the Runaway Bride, Jennifer Wilbanks. She went jogging near her home in Duluth, Georgia, took a taxi, boarded a Greyhound bus, and went to Las Vegas. After a few days she took another bus to Albuquerque. She finally called her distraught family and fiance´ and talked to police, claiming that she had been abducted by a Hispanic man and a white woman. In a few short hours, her story unraveled. The bride, who had been scheduled to marry John Mason in a swank ceremony with 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen, had left on her own. She said that she had "concerns" and that she "needed time alone." When she made her public apology, she did not say what those concerns were.

My question is, why wasn't she addressing those concerns with her fiance´ and family rather than involving the police, her community, and people across the country who prayed, searched, and hoped against hope? How much trouble and money would a "courageous conversation" have saved?

When you look at your life, do you see examples of the same principle? Do you carry fears and resentments inside because you just don't have the courage to address your concerns? Maybe you hint or act them out, but they don't get resolved.

Three Avoidance Traps

Yes, experience has proven that when you don't talk about real issues, they tend to get worse. So why would avoidance be such a popular coping mechanism? I believe that there are three primary reasons.

1. You don't want to hurt feelings. Are you a person who wants to keep everyone happy? Do you assume that if you bring up the other person's problem behavior, you will hurt him or her? Do you have the habit of ignoring significant violations of your own rights and feelings, hurting yourself?

2. You want to avoid conflict. Do you want to keep the peace at all costs? Have you had negative experiences with conflict in the past, so you want to avoid it?

3. You are afraid of the results of the conversation. Are you afraid you'll lose the relationship? Do you fear that you might open a can of worms that calls for change on your part? Do you wonder how you will follow through if the person refuses to listen?

From avoidance to action

If you've been caught in any of those traps, you don't have to stay there. Take these five steps out of avoidance and into courageous action.

1. Identify what needs to be addressed, with whom. What are the feelings you've been holding back from someone with whom you're in a significant personal or work relationship? Is this harming your relationship, long-term? What results are you looking for? Do you just want to be heard and understood? Are there changes (on both of your parts) that could make your relationship stronger?

2. Confront your fears. What's holding you back? What would you do if your fears were realized after this courageous conversation? What are the costs if you let it go and it gets worse? Can you get needed support from friends or even a professional?

3. Practice. Write out what you plan to say. Read it, tell it to the mirror, say it to a trusted friend. Have your friend respond in all of the ways you fear the other person will react. Better to be hit with it now so that you can practice.

4. Choose your time. Don't pick a time when the other person is busy, cranky, or exhausted. Don't hit the individual with it unexpectedly, as he or she is almost sure to get defensive. Make an appointment, naming the topic. Set a courteous, collaborative tone when you ask for the discussion.

5. Just do it. Do it with kindness and respect, but do it.

It's tough to do, but it's the thing to do. "Speak the truth in love."

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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