I had a confrontation the other day. I guess confrontation is the best thing to call it. I sent a note to someone to express my beliefs and ask them for their cooperation in a situation we were mutually involved in. I knew the request was not exactly how they believed the situation should be handled, but I also had confidence (based on both my belief and solid advice) that it was the right way to handle it. The final decision was mine, and I was trying to be gracious in including them. I also tried to work my response to them as carefully as I could, without arrogance or accusation.
I was excoriated in their reply. I was accused of, among other things, being arrogant, disrespectful, and controlling. Honestly, given history, I should have expected this reply, but it surprised me. I spent a few moments very angry over being spoken to as I was. But once that initial feeling passed, I was frustrated. I am not always the best communicator, so I tend to get very frustrated when I’m not understood. I am willing to take that blame for communicating poorly.
I understand that we all tend to have some blind spots, so I asked for some counsel from a few respected people. I asked them to review what I had sent and let me know if it came across to them as any of the things of which I had been accused. No one that I sought the advice of considered my original note to be problematic, at least not in line with the accusations.
Over the period of time it took to get this advice, I reviewed both my note and the response. I felt bad that the other party was offended by my note, but I that didn’t change anything I believed about the situation or how to handle it. I also noted, with some ironic humor, that nearly everything the response accused me of was present in the reply. This really didn’t help resolve the situation any, but I found it interesting.
The reply included an insinuation of physical violence. It didn’t bother me because of how ludicrous it was, but it was another irony. You see, every feared outcome, both explicitly stated and implied, of following my methods would be at least the same if not worse were there physical violence. It was to me, however, a fairly clear indication that the other party was enraged and simply responding in blind anger. I suspected it from the tone of the note, but the hinted threat simply confirmed those suspicions.
At the end of the reply, the other party asked that I simply not communicate with them any longer. So with all the information I had, I needed to make a decision how to handle the situation. I debated several options and finally decided that, in a show of respect, I would honor their request. So I haven’t communicated with the other party. Although I remain willing to discuss this and any other issues between us, at this point I suspect it would be a worthless proposition.
At the very foundation of of any sort of effective conversation is a core acceptance that we may be wrong. Now, obviously we never believe that we are wrong (why would we hold a belief that we considered wrong). But to accept that we might be wrong is different. To come to the table saying “I believe I’m right, but I could possibly be wrong, so I’ll listen to what you have to say and consider it” allows us to enter discussions with others that allow for both changing our own minds or changing someone else’s mind. When we accept the possibility of being wrong, we can have a genuine thought filled conversation.
However, when we come to the table thinking “I’m right and you will never convince me” will only serve to limit conversation and we can gain nothing but a convert to our opinion. And maybe that’s the issue all along. Maybe because in my situation, the other party can’t accept the possibility that they are wrong, just maybe that is why they have considered my different belief to be arrogant, disrespectful, or controlling. That is what I suspect, but at this point I suppose I’ll never know.