“No one can make me feel inferior without my permission.” She had a receding chin, buck teeth, a dumpy shape, and bad hair. She was the butt of jokes. Her voice grated. But when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke, millions of “nobodies” took heart.
We often avoid hard conversations because we fear how someone else may “make” us feel. You know, I can’t talk to him because he makes me feel … hurt, dumb, mad, guilty, useless… the list goes on.
What if we put our own okayness in the driver’s seat, and denied permission for anyone else to “make” us feel anything we don’t want to feel? Isn’t it really more accurate to say, “When you raise your voice, I feel intimidated.” Then I can decide whether to be intimidated or not. I’m taking responsibility for my own feelings. Maybe I’m being too sensitive. Since I’m not accusing, he can respond without getting defensive. He may choose to moderate his volume, since he may not realize how loud he’s speaking or its effect on me.
Of course, taking responsibility is easier said than done. And I don’t mean to blame the victim. Bullying, especially if accompanied by physical actions or threats, is real and wrong. But we gain a lot of power in a conflict when we make this shift.
Recently I mediated a case involving millions of dollars. Both sides were convinced their case was very strong. In a private session with one group, I tried to lower expectations by saying, “You know, a judge might see this differently.” One person blurted out, “You’re a liar!” Others sucked in their collective breath. Someone murmured, “That’s offensive!” I heard myself saying, truthfully, “I’m not offended. Let’s move on.” Why was I not offended? I realized the speaker was simply upset and out of control. It was about his fear of being wrong. It wasn’t about me.
Next time you feel uncomfortable in a conversation, say what you’re feeling. Make a request of the other. (“Could you lower your voice?” “Could you reframe that statement?” Or, “Could we take a 10-minute break for everyone to calm down and collect our thoughts?”) Ask yourself what’s behind the other’s behavior. And… look within to try to figure out what’s being triggered in you and why.
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