Tuesday, March 31, 2015

My Conflicted Relationship with Conflict

I used to be extremely conflict averse. Fighting with people and arguing made me cry. I was afraid of people yelling at me and of being “wrong.” One of the reasons I went to law school was to overcome those fears, and it worked.

I’ve come to realize that a firm verbal exchange (let’s not call it a “fight”)—particularly when you know that you have the moral, legal, or ethical high ground—can never harm you, and it can also be immensely satisfying and cathartic.

I recently helped a friend back on the East Coast through a conflict with an adult bully, in which, among other things, the bully was threatening to “sue” my friend. You know the type: the adults who were obviously bullied as kids, and who now seek universal revenge by yelling at anyone they can force into submission in order to get their way and assert their perceived dominance.

Except it turns out that when you stand up to people like that, they’re not so tough after all. Most bullies tend to shrink in the face of being confronted, as I’ve learned time and again from both personal and professional experience. (Especially when you tell them off on the phone or better yet in person, as opposed to in writing).

To me, that's what conflict is all about. Conflict is a tool, and it’s a tool you need to use sparingly and in the right way. It’s the classic “pick your battles” scenario, but engaging in a battle worth picking is the best rush there is. There’s nothing more rewarding than telling off a mean, stupid, adult bully and having them sheepishly skulk away to do whatever it is they need to do.

Oh, and by the way: that’s my all-time favorite response to any threat (particularly the “I’m going to sue you” threat): “Do what you need to do.” It tells the bully to bring whatever bullshit bullying they see fit to bring, and nine times out of ten what they end up bringing turns out to be exactly nothing. Filing a lawsuit in America is easier than ordering a milkshake and fries from McDonald’s. It doesn’t make that person right. If someone is bound and determined to “sue” you, nothing you can say will stop them, and it will be a costly pain in everyone’s ass. But at least you’ll have your pride and you’ll have stood up to a bully.

I don’t like to engage in conflicts just for fun, but nothing—and I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G—makes me happier than telling someone off who really deserves it. Right to their face.

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