4/11/11

Difficult Conversations - Setting boundaries we can live with

I have always hated difficult conversations. You know, like the one where you tell a friend he hurt your feelings, or the one where you might tell a coworker about an issue that needs to be mutually resolved. But the more I 'grow up' the more I find these difficult conversations an integral part of setting social guidelines as well as an essential key in establishing one's self respect.

I grew up being taught not to 'shake the boat'. As a child, I learned by watching my family that the right thing to do was excuse yourself when offered food or drink by a host. "Oh, no, I don't need a drink " or 'no thanks, I JUST ate" were the standard responses, regardless of whether it were true or not. In the process of becoming an adult I aimed to be more deliberate and logical about my choices and not have them simply be an opposite reaction to the way I was brought up. Part of this process has been addressing difficult issues that come up head on; regardless of its awkwardness level, regardless of how that might affect the relationship. A good friend once told me that 'you teach others how to treat you'. Taking that first step and directly addressing miscommunications and social issues as they come up is an integral part of teaching others how to treat you. The two are inextricably connected.

Having had many of these difficult conversations in my short life, I am painfully aware of the relationship between the purity of the intentions behind the words and its effectiveness level. There is no doubt in my mind that the effectiveness of the conversation is only equal to the purity of the intention behind the words exchanged within that conversation. For example, have you ever had an argument with someone and you just wanted to sting them with your words? I have. It felt great at the moment, but the argument only led to more anger and pain and ultimately after doing this several times you learn that nothing comes from breeding negative intentions and spewing hurtful words. Yet, if your intention derives from a good and honorable place, the results are bound to be more pleasing. You still may have hurt feelings, but at least on your end you know you operated from a place where hurting the other side was not the primary goal.

The world is not a perfect place. And as the Buddhists say, the only thing that is predictable is that everything is unpredictable. Expecting life to go smoothly, and for people around us to always just know what to do and how to behave is a bit of a tall order in a world where not one person is like another. We may not be able to control the outside world, but we should absolutely know ourselves enough to respect our own personal boundaries and speaking up for ourselves by having those difficult conversations.


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