A few weeks ago I was witness to two family members who did something that reminded me of a valuable lesson.
The two people in question had expressed a disagreement on an email exchange. It was the typical “my truth versus your truth” kind of situation. Some of the emails were curt, unkind, and heavy with justifications. Twenty-four hours later, the two people came face-to-face — but there was no reference AT ALL to the email exchanges of a day ago. They talked. They laughed. They were civil. To the average onlooker, they looked like two people who got along just fine. Simmering beneath the surface were hurt feelings caused by the bitterness of words exchanged on email.
Things were not fine. It was just easier, and perhaps “safer” to brush the whole thing under the carpet and “pretend” to get along. It was so much easier not to voice difficult questions and hear the other’s version of the truth.
Emotional honesty is hard. But it’s also an essential life skill. Unfortunately far too many people prefer to look the other way and not engage in these difficult and necessary conversations.
Why is emotional honesty hard?
- Because we don’t trust ourselves to stay calm in a conversation where we will likely be blamed, shamed, or accused of something we didn’t say or do. We know how to “implode” or “explode”, neither of which fosters a healthy relationship.
- Because we expect the other to “trigger” our anger, hurt, guilt, or sadness. And no one enjoys being provoked.
- Because we don’t know how to “listen” — especially when the other person is saying something about us that’s hard to hear.
- Because we mistakenly believe that “keeping the relationship we have” is more important than telling the truth and upsetting everyone concerned.
- Because we don’t want to accept that we may have been wrong.
- Because we rarely receive the understanding, affirmation and acceptance we seek. Instead we feel like we’re opening ourselves up to being attacked.
- Because the only thing we know how to do when attacked is defend.
- Because we’re attached to outcomes. We want to hear the apology, or receive the forgiveness. Seldom does this happen in emotionally charged conversations.
- Because no one taught us how to have tough conversations using non-violent words.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll talk about why emotional honesty is necessary and how to practice emotional honesty.
How do you deal with conflict in your relationships? Comment below.