As a certified behavioral analyst, I work a lot with the DISC tool (Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness and Compliance) to help people understand their own style, and that of others. Each of us is strongest on one or two scales, and this dictates our preferred mode of communication.
Only the people with a strong “D” style are comfortable with conflict – about 18% of the population. D’s actually seek conflict and enjoy engaging in difficult discussions (think: debate team in high school). For a D, if something is wrong, they want to let someone else know – even if that other person is feeling uncomfortable.
The rub in our culture comes in when you consider that about 82% of the population is quite conflict-averse. They would rather avoid conflict at all costs, in most cases. This means that oftentimes if someone has a problem with someone else, and finds them difficult, they’d prefer to either stew on an issue, give them the silent treatment, walk away or just not engage, rather than discuss the issue.
I was reminded of this by my neighbor that I wrote about last week; the one who slammed the door on me. As a follow-up to that incident, I wrote her a note asking her if the problem was my dog on her lawn. I apologized for any emotional pain she might have been caused by my actions, and assured her that I would not let the dogs near her property again.
She responded by writing me a long letter about what a terrible neighbor I am, how much she hates living near me and my dogs, and generally how much she dislikes me. Wow. I was stunned reading it – not by the fact that others don’t like me or label me as a “difficult person” – we can’t control that in life, but just that for months and months she was walking by me without speaking, slamming doors and refusing to return my waves, and all along she was so upset with me.
It brought me back to the point about conflict that I know from a logical and research perspective, but I sometimes forget from a day-to-day real-world perspective. Many of us would want others to share their feelings, talk to us about what’s wrong, and help us know how to fix a problem we’re causing someone else. But the truth is that for most of the population, having these discussions is exceptionally uncomfortable. Many people don’t know how to overcome their own internal resistance and just stop someone to say, “Hey, what you are doing is bothering me and here’s why.”