Updated: Apr 16, 2020
A few weeks ago, we had a cute, but uninvited guest raccoon on our back porch. It would scamper around, check out the family through the French doors, and then run off. For me, this was an out of sight, out of mind scenario, until we began to hear serious thumping and knocking around in the attic. Still, I wasn’t too worried because I didn’t have indisputable evidence that the raccoon was in the attic. After all, I hadn’t seen anything with my own eyes, or even evidence of the feared raccoon damage. True, I didn’t actually go in the attic, but I don’t believe in chasing down problems. Again, out of sight, out of mind was my motto.
However, my husband rudely forced me out of my raccoon delusion. Out of sight, out of mind, didn’t work anymore when he came face-to-face with the raccoon, slammed the attic door, and called the animal trapper. Within a few days, the trapper caught the mommy raccoon and three baby raccoons for a bargain price of $600. And get this: the babies were eight weeks old. So far, we think the attic damage repair work will cost about $3,000. Awesome. Repairing raccoon damage in my attic, with $3,000 I don’t have, is my fantasy. The silver lining is that we don’t have bats. Yes, I made the trapper check.
How was it possible that we didn’t know four animals were living over our heads for more than eight weeks? Well, for me, I didn’t want to know; so that helped. Would I have ever called the trapper? I doubt it. Sad, but true.
As your personal communication evangelist, I use this raccoon story to ask you, “Is there someone you have been avoiding?”
As I help people talk to each other, I find avoidance is the gateway relationship killer and conflict enabler. When someone’s words or actions hurt, make us angry, or cause insult or fear, I find avoidance is the first line of defense. We back away, avoid conversation and this hairline fracture weakens our foundation enough to allow far more damage.
Why do people do this? Well, for me, I didn’t want to deal with the truth: I had four raccoons in my attic!! Why would I want to deal with that? No one would want that, but I think we can all agree, I should have dealt with the truth much earlier. So should you.
Is that why you are avoiding someone? Because you don’t want to deal with the truth? Take heed from my raccoon story—the avoidance only allows the problem to get worse. Yes, it is likely that a conversation after something upset you is going to be awkward. So what? Are we really so soft that we can’t handle an awkward conversation? We can if we will. You can stand almost anything for five minutes, and that might be all it takes. And, when the admittedly glitchy conversation clears the air, preserving the relationship and allowing some quality sharing and listening, then the return on the awkward conversation investment is huge. However, the truth of the matter is that the avoidance is only going to allow time for more damage. The awkward conversation is far better than allowing raccoons to live in your attic and wreak havoc.
Below are a few pocket phrases to help you start the conversation. If you check your voice and expression to sincerely communicate that you care about the relationship, everything else will work itself out.
Notice, I didn’t say that everyone will do want you want. The point is to still want to be on the same team after the task is accomplished.
1. Yesterday, we talked about our annual conference. I’d like to hear more about your concerns.” Listening first changes everything.
2. “When we were talking about incentive package, we seemed to have different ideas about how that should work. I know we can’t expect to agree on everything, but I just want to make sure the two of us are okay as we are figuring out the logistics.”
3. “At our staff meeting, you mentioned the summer schedule. I’d like to hear more about what you are trying to accomplish.”
4. “Yesterday the conversation about leadership seemed pretty intense even though I know we want the same outcome. Can we talk about that together some more?”
Hopefully, having these pocket phrases handy will help ease the tension, since getting started is the hardest part. Practice saying your opener out loud, hear your voice offering an invitation, and let your sincere desire to ease the tension lead the way. It works. I promise.
Truthfully, I’ll be so happy if you actually have glitchy conversations rather than getting sucked into the false safety zone of avoidance. Take action, go first, risk a bit of awkwardness. I have every confidence your efforts will bear beautiful fruit.