It’s no secret that introverts dislike conflict. We would rather stay silent than rock the boat. We tend to favor avoidance over confrontation. If the choice is between fight or flight, we usually choose the latter. Some of us will even go hungry trying to dodge a potential clash (I’ve dropped entire dress sizes while avoiding angry roommates).
Unfortunately, shrinking and fleeing from conflict isn’t productive. Unless you’re with Alice Dubois from The Medium (one of my all time favorite shows by the way), your partner can’t read your mind and neither can your friends.
Frightening as it may be, we actually have to open our mouths and let our feelings tumble out. We have to put our thoughts into words – several words, in fact, strung together into coherent sentences. This is not so easy for introverts.
Flipping through our phones, burying our noses in books, writing passive aggressive notes – that’s easy. Standing up for ourselves and verbalizing our feelings? Really freakin’ difficult. But (sigh) completely necessary.
A couple of years ago, I had a roommate who unexpectedly contracted a severe case of I-hate-Michaela syndrome. Instead of making pleasant (okay, it was never very pleasant) small talk when we passed each other in the common areas of the house, she gave me the silent treatment.
Me: “Hey, how are you?”
Angry Roommate: (…) averts eyes and walks away.
Me: “Hey, do you know where the broom is?”
Angry Roommate: (…) doesn’t reply, but throws the broom out of her room and into the hallway.
Me: “Umm, Angry Roommate, did I do something to upset you? Because I noticed you’re not talking to me and I don’t know why. I can’t read minds, so unless you tell me, I can’t do anything about it.”
Angry Roommate: (…)
A couple of weeks later, I found an extremely passive aggressive note on my door explaining why I was a horrible person. In the note, Angry Roommate harshly chastised me for wearing my shoes in the house and adding water to the liquid hand soap.
Can you guess what my reaction was?
Instead of laughing at the complete ridiculousness of the situation, I was wracked with guilt. Rather than marching up to her door and telling her she was being unreasonable, I shrunk away and hid. For three weeks. This is one of those instances where I literally lost weight while trying to avoid conflict.
I share this story to illustrate the flawed nature of both my roommate’s and my own approach to conflict. She should have told me how she felt from the beginning instead of leaving a nasty note on my door.
And what was my transgression?
By hiding away and avoiding her, I essentially gave her permission to disrespect me. I will forever regret what I did not say to Angry Roommate. She will never know that I found her behavior unacceptable. She won’t see my perspective or understand how she made me feel.
This experience changed the way I react to conflict. I made a promise to myself that from then on, if someone upset me, they would hear about it. Without yelling, or accusing, or blaming, I can now tell people how they make me feel. It still scares the sh** out of me, but I do it anyway.
I’ve discovered that introverts are actually at an advantage during disagreements because of our economy of words approach to communication. It only takes a few words to express your emotions and diffuse tension. Simply saying, “I feel [insert feeling here] and I do not like feeling this way” is very effective.
As introverts, we should never stay quiet if someone violates our dignity or just plain makes us feel bad. When we hide from conflict, we cover up our true thoughts and emotions. We might avoid an argument, but we also prevent the deeper connection that can result from open, honest communication.
When it comes to conflict, perhaps we don’t have to choose between fighting or fleeing. We can hold our ground peacefully and let our quiet voices be heard.