Plausible Deniability & Dealing With Conflict

Recently, someone from my past contacted me to discuss something I had said in passing here. It was said not in a post, but in a comment.  He was understandably annoyed. I told him that just because something could apply to him doesn’t mean it was directed it him and suggested he simply not read if he was going to personalize everything that is said.

Truth? What I said was in a way inspired by him.  To say that my opinion or expressive commentary wasn’t would be disingenuous.

I wasn’t annoyed at being called out. What annoyed me was his explanation as to how he found out about it.

“Oh, I didn’t read it. Someone that I turned on to your column read it and told me about it.”

Now, that’s entirely possible. Anything is possible.

Rather than say he had read it, he felt it necessary (I believe) to manufacture a source. That way he can take a tone of aloof superiority with me and maintain plausible deniability should I (or anybody else) decide to turn the argument around on him and ask why he’s reading in the first place.

All of this got me to thinking about our own ability to concede and offer a genuine apology. To some people it comes with little angst. But to others, there is a staunch refusal to give in. Their position in the dynamic is far too important to them.They need to cling to the moral high ground, absolutely lying to themselves and others about their contribution to the so-called “problem.”

I recently tweeted that, in order to have an honest conversation with someone, each party needs to be able to be honest with themselves. We say this as it’s a given. Of course. But I think what many people fail to understand is that there are a lot of people who are incapable of this. Which makes dating them very, very difficult. If they are unable to admit their errors or their participation in the current conflict, then there is no point in arguing. There is no winning.

Dealing with conflict is never easy and often exhausting. Especially if one or both parties aren’t very good at resolving the issue productively. Much of how we deal with conflict comes from our environment. We learn at a very young age to either fight or retreat.

About a month ago, I was in a situation where a man and I had had a disagreement over something that, in hindsight, was silly. I watched him putter around his kitchen and get food that he had ordered for us and lay it out on the coffee table in his living room. He didn’t look up, he didn’t say a word. He sat down at the coffee table, crossed his legs and put on The Simpsons, his back to me. He had laid a place out for me. I sat at his computer and watched this unfold, also saying nothing.  Refusing to sit at that table. I looked at him, sitting there with his legs crossed, watching a cartoon.

I got a flash of an image. It was of a little boy eating his dinner in front of the TV, away from what was going on behind him, completely detached. Escaping I think is a better word. In that moment, I couldn’t be angry. This was all he knew. This was how he coped with conflict. He shut out the noise and the tension and just drifted off in to his own world.

Maybe I was projecting my own similar experiences as a child. Due to my Mom dying and everybody grieving in their own way, there was tension. Nobody was really talking about their feelings. They were just..reacting.So I would sit in front of the TV and watch The Brady Bunch and shut it all out.My sisters were all much older than me and were in different stages of development. They would fight over clothes and boys and who gets Dad’s car.  (Is it any wonder my Dad would literally work 18 hour days?)

Growing up in a family of 5 daughters – 5 strong, outspoken women – tends to condition somebody to confront. So you grow up thinking that this is how it’s done and that everybody takes the same approach. So when you come up against someone who takes the exact opposite stance, it can be unbelievably frustrating. You can try to be more in tune with their needs. You can accept them for the tools that they have or don’t have. But by a certain point in our lives, it’s almost impossible to “fix” them.

My friend J. and I were talking about this situation yesterday and she said, “A lot of people aren’t concerned with personal development.  And that’s okay.”

She’s right. Some people will never be who you want them to be. They will never develop the skills necessary to resolve conflict in a productive way. Everybody has their own tool box.It’s just that some people’s boxes are more complete than others. The hard part is finding someone who has the same or similar tools as you do.

Resolving conflict in a healthy way and in a way that doesn’t make you want to shoot your face off starts with one thing:

Accountability. What have you done to add to the mounting tension? Refusing to admit what you’ve done strictly so you can maintain some level of superiority isn’t going to help you get what you want. Then you need to be sure you are justified in your reaction and equally guilty of the same behavior or act.

Next,  you need to show empathy. Why is this person feeling what they are feeling? You don’t have to agree with it. You just need to make a genuine effort to understand. The thing people don’t realize is that some people are incapable of this because every thought they have is fueled by their own self-obsession.

Finally, you need to be able to decide if this problem is actually a problem at all or if you’re choosing to make it one.

That’s the place you come from when you react or make a request.

For me, there are rare cases where I will stand my ground in an argument and refuse to yield. Bullying of any kind will never work on me. Neither will blatant lying or manipulation. Trying to assert control over me will not end well. For either of us.

But when I do become that stubborn, that is a warning sign to me that this is not a relationship I wish to save.  If I’m putting my own ego first, then what does that say not only about my feelings for this person but my ability to be in that particular relationship? Why am I there in the first place??

If you continue to push, you need to ask yourself one thing:

1. Why is it so important to you to “win?”

If you don’t have an answer to that, a real one and not just “Because I’m right”, then you need to just stop.

I’ve said this before. There is no winning in these situations. You might get what you want in the short term. But in the long term, needing to win will eventually become a bigger problem for you.

The truth is, you will not always win. Accept that and move on.





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5 Responses to “Plausible Deniability & Dealing With Conflict”

  1. fuzzilla Says:

    I’ve learned “the feeling sandwich”: “I felt ______ when you did _____ because ______.” (Like, I dunno, “I felt abandoned when you ditched me at the party because I didn’t know anyone”). Also I tend to be a bit of a pottymouth but takes pains to keep things clean in an argument. The idea is, you don’t want to focus on anything but the exact issue at hand…don’t bring up old shit, don’t use inflammatory language. ONLY talk about their behaviors and your feelings. Don’t do anything that will amplify drama or give them absolutely anything to use against you (of course, they may turn everything into drama despite your best efforts, but if you keep it clean and focused and don’t feed into the drama, you can rest assured you’re not crazy and it’s about them. Yes, maybe time to move on if they’re that exhausting and unreasonable). Be accountable when it’s your turn and something’s bothering them. You can both be “right,” both your feelings can make sense/be understandable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. The D-man Says:

    Rather than say he had read it, he felt it necessary (I believe) to manufacture a source

    I don’t see how this is relevant to the original issue. And if it’s important to you, why didn’t you ask him? If you believe someone is lying but don’t say so, you can later use that to justify passive-aggressive behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

    • Andthatswhyyouresingle Says:

      Because some people just don’t tell the truth.

      There’s no point in accusing them, because they’ll just deny it and you’ll end up going around and around in circles. I knew it was a lie. I responded accordingly.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

      • Crotch Rocket Says:

        Focusing on the other person’s wrongs is a way for us to justify our own wrongs. And then they do the same thing, of course. Voilà, vicious cycle.

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  3. Jamie Says:

    The most honest people don’t tell lies but can’t help repeating the lies they tell themselves.

    Three books I read, and suggest reading, in this order, for anyone who finds themselves repeatedly in no-win discussions:

    1. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Although much of it is directed at salespeople, it includes the very basics of not getting embroiled in the typical argument, which is usually a contest of who can be the bigger a-hole. I never learned how to sell well enough to make a great living at it, but I learned how reduce the frequency of pissing people off without realizing it.

    2. I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better, by Gary and Joy Lundberg. About providing affirmation to your partner, child, etc, not feeling like you have to change them, learning not to lose your identity or sanity.

    3. Verbal Judo: the Gentle Art of Persuasion, by George Thompson. This guy writes from his experience at being a cop for a few years. Reading the other 2 books first will help in remembering the “personhood” of people in a dispute and not being tempted toward belligerence when following the advice in this book.

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