On Confrontation

Earlier this week I travelled home from London after a good working day. My train wasn’t at its usual platform, so I walked to the other side of the station. After queueing for a while, the person in front of me couldn’t get their ticket to go through the barrier. I smiled, let them pass and tried my ticket. It wouldn’t work either. Attempting to walk to the open barrier and ticket attendant, I turned to the woman behind me, gave an (admittedly quiet) apology and moved across.

As I passed, she said loudly, “Some people have no class. Oh look, my ticket is working fine”.

I don’t retaliate in such circumstances. In the moment I thought the best thing to do was keep my head down. The woman continued: “She should have been taught some manners”.

By the time I boarded the train, I felt quietly angry. I considered why I was experiencing such a reactive sting. Arguably, hostile comments from delayed commuters are a regular occurrence. Was it because I thought the woman was rude and impatient? Yes. Was it because I don’t like being singled out in public? Yes, that too. But beyond this, I was upset to be thought of as careless or inattentive to other people’s needs. I realised I care too much about a stranger thinking I don’t care.

I aim to be considerate and kind. I like to let people pass me in a queue if they’re in a hurry or having trouble. I tend to apologise unnecessarily. I’m Monica when she keeps making all the candy for the neighbours she doesn’t know. If I had said anything to the woman as we joined our separate trains, it probably would have been, “I’m nice really! My parents brought me up well!”

Confrontation is draining, especially as an introvert. I don’t seek out conflict or drama. I can be assertive but I’m not aggressive. I enjoy proactive discussions about problems, preferably paired with post-it notes and coloured pens for categorising solutions. The negative emotions I felt after such sweeping declarations from a stranger reminded me to be thankful for the people who understand and appreciate my nature.

However, I want to get better at dealing with challenging behaviours and views. Although I hope not to encounter lots of aggressive people throughout my life (this is the top reason I don’t work in the City), confident conflict resolution is an important skill, personally and professionally. Along with Fierce Conversations, I found this HBR Ideacast episode about conflict avoiders and conflict seekers interesting.

So, I’m going to work on shaking off unnecessary confrontations and managing any that arise. I’d like to find a balance between caring too much and not caring at all. I believe we can resolve misunderstandings or difficulties in an empathetic and genuine way, though perhaps not during rush hour at Victoria station.

What do you think?

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