"You are a lying sack of something stinky," and other conflict starters guaranteed to get you nowhere

By Kathy Radina, M. Ed. | August 26, 2009

Kathy RadinaI’ve never heard anyone say, “I love to fight. Just give me a good argument and I’ll be happy!” In fact, most of us avoid confrontations. But in my experience, avoiding conflict can lead to more problems than actually facing it. When it comes to disagreement I think we are afraid, and inexperienced, and I plan to end that right now.

Here is one simple rule for talking about difficult topics.

I can say anything I want as long as I do not use the pronoun YOU.

This means I am going to use the pronoun I, not some fancy substitute for you like my mate, my boss or my daughter.

Now most people who want to discuss a problem at least have the good sense to pick the right time to express their concern, and they know to use a non-threatening tone of voice, but that’s not enough. My husband Bob and I may be having a delightful afternoon, and in a sweet calm voice, if I say to him, “Honey, dearest, love of my life, I find it irritating when you leave dirty dishes in the sink.”

To him, this can sound like an attack, and when people feel attacked they typically fight or flee.

How can I deliver a message and not use YOU? Easy, sit for a minute and contemplate the situation. Now determine what you think about it and perhaps how it makes you feel. Those are the “I” messages that will get delivered. So my statement to Bob becomes,
“Honey, I don’t like to see dirty dishes left in the sink too long. Sometimes they smell and I feel taken advantage of when I am the only one who washes them.”

Undoubtedly he will have a response, “Clearly, dishes in the sink don’t bother me. I don’t notice the smell, and I’d rather do one big dish cleaning than lots of small ones.”

Let’s look at some more examples.

To the cashier: “I don’t think this is the correct change.”
Instead of; “You gave me the wrong change.”

To your mother-in-law; “This is a private conversation.”
Instead of; “This is none of your business.”

To the repairman; “This is rather expensive.”
Instead of; “You’re kidding me you thief, how could it possible cost this much?”

And finally, at work; “I understood I would get a raise after three months.”
Instead of giving your boss the silent treatment and thinking to yourself, “She should know why I am upset. I shouldn’t have to beg for what was promised me.”

In conclusion, I’d love to see you give this a try, and if you start to get afraid, remember this quote from Gerry Spence:

“Despite what we have learned to the contrary, we need to speak as if we were naked. For we all know that when the other stands naked before us, we recognize that he or she is real.”

Kathy Radina, M.Ed. is a counselor in Carefree. She can be reached at 480-488-6096 or visit www.kathyradina.com