Let’s Have A Hard Conversation
People say, “I don’t like confrontation,” as if they’re saying, “I’m a nice person.”
But avoiding confrontation is not nice. It’s cowardly.
I do it all the time.
My friend Gina lost her job during COVID and lived alone. She had a rough year. My husband Sam and I invited her to come live with us. She could babysit our son a few hours a day and wouldn’t have to find a job right away. It was a win-win.
But then she disappeared for a month. Her phone was turned off and I had no way of getting in touch with her.
During this time she had a few panic attacks and doctors put her on medication.
When Gina finally called she let me know she was doing better. She made a joke, “I’d still love to come live with you guys and help out, unless you think I’m too crazy.”
I told her I didn’t think she’s crazy. “But to be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what happened with you, so we have started looking for help.”
I hung up the phone and realized I wasn’t “perfectly honest.” Sam and I had started to consider other options but it wasn’t just because she disappeared and we needed help sooner. We weren’t sure if we felt comfortable with her being alone with George. And saying we didn’t need her help actually meant we didn’t want her help. At least not right now.
But how could I say that?
In her memoir, Untamed, Glennon Doyle asks,
“What is better: uncomfortable truth or comfortable lies? Every truth is a kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Every untruth is an unkindness, even if it makes others comfortable."
I trust Gina completely but was not entirely privy to everything that happened. It made me and Sam nervous. I figured she would understand and anticipate our feelings, so I was unprepared to have a hard conversation.
She texted later to confirm the move to our house in May. Now was my chance to say the uncomfortable truth.
I texted back, “As for George, because of everything that’s happened recently with the panic attacks and new meds, I think it’s best for you to not be responsible for watching him. We’re going to hire outside help.”
It took 20 minutes to craft that response. It was hard to send, but it was honest and clear.
Gina didn’t respond for five. long. days.
Instead of calling to find out exactly how she felt, I worried. Did I make her feel bad? Does she still want to move in with us? Am I a bad friend?
Doyle likens anxiety to getting a cavity filled at the dentist:
“It's not even the pain I hate the most - it's the anticipation of the pain. I'm sweating, panicking, waiting for it to hurt terribly bad. It never does, but it feels like it's always about to.”
All week long it felt like I was about to get a cavity filled. Sam suggested I call Gina but I put it off. I didn’t want to have the uncomfortable conversation. I wanted to avoid it until it went away.
That’s how I handle a lot of things.
I don’t open mail. I think about calling my friends more than I actually call them. I make up stories in my head and assume the worst: the neighbor wasn’t overly friendly as she usually is - I must have done something wrong; my boss didn’t say much when he saw me - he definitely hates me.
I trade the short-term relief of avoidance for long-term anxiety.
Brene Brown calls this tapping out, when we avoid conflict and uncomfortable conversations. She encourages us to remove the armor and replace it with grounded confidence:
“Grounded confidence is about the willingness to be in vulnerability, to be curious, to practice new ways of being that are awkward sometimes.”
We have to embrace and normalize the awkwardness in order to have important conversations. Just because I told Gina one uncomfortable truth didn’t mean there wouldn’t be more difficult conversations to follow. And each hard conversation further strengthens a relationship, while avoiding them creates tension.
When Gina finally texted back she was excited about the move and asked if I knew of any restaurant jobs in the area. All was well and she wasn’t upset with me. But I spent five days feeling anxious, five days feeling distracted, five days with a dark cloud over my head.
I’d rather feel uncomfortable for a moment than anxious for days. I’d rather be brave and have the hard conversations. That’s the only way for hard conversations to get easier.