Many years ago I worked quite closely with another colleague. Overall, we had a pretty good working relationship, but some disagreements also as to how things should be done and what the best course of action was to take.
I remember clearly at times finding those disagreements quite difficult: my colleague didn’t really like to talk things through in a lot of detail, her style was more along the lines of stating her view and then sticking to it. My perception was that nothing I said seemed to be heard or taken on board.
Frustrated one evening, I called my sister to let off steam. She listened patiently for a while as I harped on about the situation and how irritated I was about her lack of openness to my viewpoint, how I saw things… ‘You know’, I said indignantly, ‘what really bugs me is that she always thinks she’s right’. There was silence for a moment and then she spoke.
‘You know Mary, I think it’s you who always thinks she’s right…’
Her unexpected words sank in. Bang…my bubble of anger was burst. She had nailed it and helped me to realise that at some level I had started to doubt my own viewpoint. My colleague had tapped into my own lack of confidence in my position. My frustration and vehement arguments were more about convincing myself than her.
In difficult conversations and conflict, we have a tendency to project our negative feelings of anger and irritation onto the other person:‘I’m angry because they are so narrow-minded and won’t see it my way’. Yet if we think it through enough, we will find that all roads lead back to ourselves. The first person you need to engage when you’re feeling triggered or annoyed with someone, is yourself.
Get clarity on the part you are bringing to this emotional response because that will better help you manage it. And taking responsibility for our own reactions is an essential first step in moving out of confrontation and into problem-resolving.