The usual hubaloo had died down. It was a quiet, weekend day at the UN, which was a good thing, as soon I’d find myself weeping in the bathroom. But I’m getting ahead of myself
Have you ever been so frustrated, so angry, so overwhelmed that tears fall like a faucet? With your stomach roiling with anger & fear while you’re grabbing for tissues to stop the snot river? With the bitter taste of disappointment lodged like a golf ball at the back of your throat?
Cue a recent weekend of mine.
My hubbie was sorting out some logistics at the UN, while I was filling in some forms for a very specialized, very technical assessment for one of my kiddos who has some special needs.
I was already frustrated with the process as they’d wanted to send the forms via fax. (Really! Really?)
Anyway, there I was with a stack of forms to fill out, thicker than my thumb. I dug in with determination.
And then it happened.
While asking for family health histories, the phrase ‘mental retardation’ leapt off the page & grabbed me by the throat. I looked at the copyright on the document; it was from 1991. Really? Really!
If a healthcare organization based in the states, where the doctor had not one but 2 PhDs used this kind of language what else could we expect? It triggered all sorts of fears for my kiddo; for his future & how welcoming (or not) it would be.
Cue the bathroom episode.
Fast forward. I finished filling in the forms & wrote an email to the professional … & rewrote it several times before sending.
The next time you’re smacked with an unpleasant situation that you need to respond to by email, use what I learned – what I’ve come to call …
The dryer vent method of conflict resolution.
While my current home doesn’t have a dryer – as our clothes dry easily under the African sun – I do remember our home in Canada where the dryer vented outside. It spewed bits of fluff from the clothes that tumbled dry. The fluff would end up in the lint catcher but inevitably some would also escape & create a greyish, purplish carpet by the outside vent.
This is a good thing. Dryers have vents to disperse the heat & to catch lint. Without a vent your clothing could catch fire &/or the dryer could break.
The dryer vent is a crucial part of the machine.
And so it is with conflict resolution.
As I sat ruminating on my icky experience I started relating it to a dryer vent. So here, for you, is my 4 step, dryer vent method of conflict resolution.
Scratch the email address
Don’t put the person’s email address in the ‘to’ line right away. Why? Because when your emotions are running high you might be tempted to send it off stat & well, some time for reflection is in order. Do don’t be tempted to send your email before you’re ready. Rather wait until cooler heads prevail before you put the person’s email address in the ‘to’ line.
When you are responding to conflict your first email draft will most certainly include venting.
You’ll look at the situation from YOUR perspective. You may rant a bit (or a lot). Essentially you’ll be writing from the perspective of – ‘look how much you _______ (hurt, annoyed, disappointed, offended etc.) me. Aka venting.
Which is great … for you. It’s a great first step. It’ll get stuff off your chest. It just shouldn’t be the last step though if you want to resolve the conflict.
As good as the venting will feel to you (ohhhhh righteous indignation feels soooo good) it will almost certainly shut down the person you’re trying to communicate with if you leave it there.
Their brain will feel attacked which triggers a chain reaction; blood starts draining from the brain, hearing decreases, while the body is getting ready to (physically) fight. All in all not a good set up for your message being heard & for resolving a conflict.
So what’s an angry, offended, highly p#ssed off mama/colleague/professional to do? Keep going with step 3.
Time is your friend.
You’ll need to rewrite the email, possibly several times. I know I did. Why? Because after your first mad rush of mad, garbled words, you’ll need to go back & look for venting. And remove it.
While venting helps to make you less mad, it doesn’t help to resolve the conflict (& it can even make it worse).
How do you identify what in your email is a vent? Look for what is solely there to prove how much the person’s behavior made you _______ (angry, offended, indignant etc.). Find those words & change them.
I started to reexamine my email for the lint – the cast offs, the venting. I found plenty. Venting, which helped bring down my blood pressure, exasperation, anger & hurt didn’t help with the overall communication.
Once I removed the venting I replaced it with what helped move the conversation forward.
Here’s an example from my situation:
Exhibit A: “I spent about 7 hours looking for a fax machine.”
What do you think of exhibit A? Good or bad?
It’s an example of me venting because while it made me feel better, it didn’t add to the conversation.
Example B. “As mom of a child with some special needs, I consistently advocate for him. What I didn’t’ expect was to have to advocate with a highly specialized professional assessment organization. I strongly recommend you change the terminology & update the form.”
What do you think? Firm but without venting. See the difference?
Look for opportunities to create empathy
Finally see if you can reach into the brain of the person you’re emailing & create a bridge, create some empathy.
It will go a long way to helping your communication land & be heard.
Here’s an example: “I don’t know what your personal situation is, & I don’t want to make assumptions ….”
I was trying to create a bridge, some empathy by placing myself in her shoes.
There you go. Resolving conflict via email is easier than you think. With these 4 simple steps you’ll dramatically up the chances that your message will be heard, aka dryer vent conflict resolution.
- Scratch the email address (for now)
- Vent away
- Time is your friend
- Create empathy
Because after all you want to feel fiery, but not so much that your clothes catch on fire!
The curse of email is that you can send off a highly vented email that doesn’t move the conversation forward. But if you follow these steps, you can take some time, vent & then create some empathy. All of which is wayyy more likely to resolve the conflict.
Good luck. And let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear.
- Find out more about the role your amygdala plays in conflict resolution
- Talk about an awesome example of how your brain misfires on conflict; check out the cookie conflict video below
- Check out this downloadable checklist I made for you about my 4 step dryer bent technique
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