It sounds impossible but it’s not. Conflict is a normal part of any kind of relationship. We will always disagree, we will always misinterpret or come across behaviours that we feel fearful or angry about.
That doesn’t mean, however, that every conflict has to be accompanied by drama. When dealt with in a mature and healthy manner, conflict is diffused by open communication that pinpoints emotions and expresses them assertively but not aggressively. Miscommunications are clarified and solutions are discussed that are acceptable to both parties, expectations are set and trust is restored. Constructive conflict can lead to better, more intimate relationships and confidence in each other.
Drama is destructive. What I mean by this is blame, criticism, offensive language, undermining, humiliation and attempts to destroy you. Violence and levels of toxicity you would expect from a narcissist are the extreme end of the dramatic spectrum.
I had a colleague who would often attempt to sabotage my work by failing to provide necessary information, blaming me for gaps in my work which resulted from this and he would aggressively shout me down in meetings in an attempt to undermine me and humiliate me. He was a bully.
Looking back, he used drama as a smoke screen to protect his own ego and to shield himself from self-scrutiny and blame. He was so confident in his criticism of me that he succeeded in making me doubt myself and in attacking my self-confidence. I felt frightened of this intimidating man, unable to speak up because I felt vulnerable and powerless and most of all, I felt angry that I was being treated unfairly.
That’s how you know it is just drama. This distraction prevented anyone from examining his own role. I wish I could go back and tell myself some truths about his response. I wish I had had the courage to face my fears, especially that of my own power to say “stop”. I didn’t deserve this and neither do you.
For managers, it’s very hard to give performance feedback to people who thrive on drama. In our personal lives, we find it very hard to get close or communicate our own needs. Some people are simply nasty and there is no point in wasting your time trying to change them or help them. All you can do is recognise this and run.
If you do need to remain in a relationship with this person, here are a few tips about managing drama out of it and asserting yourself powerfully but politely which is the most effective way of standing your ground.
- Identify why you are in a relationship with this person. If you need the other person to do their job or work with you on a project, keep that goal as the focus of your relationship. You don’t need to have a personal relationship with anyone and if you want a professional relationship only, all exchanges with that person will have to reflect that. If you can’t walk away from it because you rely on their cooperation in some way, then keep that in mind.
- What’s in it for them? The dramatic person might need you just as much as you need them. Understand which of their interests to emphasise. For example, you may wish to highlight that cooperation means their reputation will be improved. The flip side is that it will worsen if their cooperation is withdrawn. In your personal relationships, draw the dramatic person’s attention to the fact that you have common interests such as children and their well-being is what you are both striving for.
- Realise that you have emotional options and you don’t need to react to the drama. You can choose instead to respond. It’s perfectly normal to feel frightened, angry, humiliated and angry by drama but you don’t have to express those when you are faced with it. You can instead, recognise these emotions, acknowledge them and pause before responding. You may even end the conversation if it becomes too overwhelming, with the intention to respond when you have dealt with your emotions. This is especially true if you feel your safety is at stake.
- Be assertive. Here is an example of how you might choose to respond to the drama :
I am unwilling to be the subject of any attempts to blame me, humiliate or undermine me. This is an inappropriate way to talk to me or relate to me in a professional context. I ask you to communicate with me respectfully and politely so that we can discuss the facts of the problem and we can find solutions. I will not tolerate any behaviour which is derogatory or harmful in any way , not from you and not from anyone else.
Since we must cooperate with each other in order to reach a successful result because we will both benefit from this [outline how and which interests are at stake], if you ignore my request then I will no longer respond to your attempts to communicate [or other negative consequence].
You can express this however you wish, however, the key point of this message is to outline which behaviour you will and will not tolerate and this must also be acted upon. If they ignore you and continue as before, they will know that these words have no consequence. One way of showing that is to stop communicating and refer back to your request for better treatment. Letting them know firmly and politely that you set the terms of your engagement will communicate standards of steel and boundaries that must not be crossed.
In my case, I didn’t stand up for myself as assertively as I wish I had because I feared my own power. What if they saw me for the powerful woman that I am and reject me? Isn’t it all a bit too much? It’s not particularly “nice” is it? Yes, those are the beliefs installed in me and many other people. But if you want to advance on every level, those fears must be acknowledged, allowed to be there until the physical reaction to the emotion has passed and you must then act as if you are not fearful. That’s the essence of bravery.
Do you agree? I’d love to read your comments and suggestions !