Resolving Conflict when Others Disappoint, Step 1 – Is This Worth Discussing?

We’ve all been in situations where others let us down. Maybe a co-worker missed a deadline, putting you in a tight spot. Maybe your friend is keeping you from being on time to an event for the umpteenth time. Maybe a peer plagiarized your work from a group project, and you now feel that they took advantage of your trust in them.

It can be hard to keep a cool head and stay professional in situations like this. Fortunately, there’s a great framework to help you through it–Crucial Accountability. The book was marketed toward managers, but large parts are useful for anyone who has to manage expectations with others, be it at work or in their personal life. In other words, everyone should read this book!

Deciding When to Speak Up

Imagine a situation, like one of the examples above, where you felt like someone let you down. You’re frustrated, but you’re not sure the situation is important enough to address with the other person. Maybe you should just let it slide.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to figure out how to respond.

Does it continue to bother me?

Often, when I feel let down by someone, I sleep on it and see how I feel about the situation the next day. It turns out that this is one of the ways Crucial Accountability recommends deciding whether or not to speak up in a situation: determining whether or not the interaction is weighing on your conscience.

Has the relationship been damaged?

Ask yourself, am I being passive aggressive or treating this person passive-aggressively since the incident? If so, you should strongly consider having a conversation with the person to prevent the situation from escalating!

The authors also recommend thinking deeply about your own role in the interaction—are you now acting as a victim or martyr in a situation? Are you telling yourself, “Nothing I do will change the situation”? In some instances, you may be able to regain autonomy in the relationship by having a difficult conversation and stating how you feel.

Am I safe?

If you are in an unsafe situation, or the conversation escalates to feeling unsafe at any time, Crucial Accountability strongly recommends leaving the conversation and returning to it later, or leaving the relationship entirely. It is important to remember that some situations or toxic relationships can’t be resolved by talking it out—and that’s ok!

What happens if I do nothing?

I find it difficult to confront someone about something that might seem “trivial.” In these cases, it might seem better just not to have a conversation at all. Crucial Accountability recommends exploring a concept they call the Cost of No Action—the possible outcome of not having a conversation.

It’s easy to just think to yourself, “Maybe I am overreacting,” or, “Maybe this behavior is simply someone else having a bad day.” However, Crucial Accountability and my own experience have shown me that letting something as serious as a breach of trust or a feeling that someone’s taking advantage of you go unspoken will often escalate into more and more egregious offenses. If someone doesn’t know that something is wrong, then they have no chance to change their behavior!

How important is this relationship to me?

If you have repeatedly tried resolving an issue with a personal relationship and there is no change in behavior, it may be better to simply let the relationship go. However, at work or with family, letting a relationship go may not be an option. In these situations, it is even more important to address the issue in a professional and constructive way.

Let’s do it!

If you have decided that it’s valuable and appropriate to have a conversation with this person, Crucial Accountability recommends that you have the conversation sooner, rather than later. But they also highly recommend first taking some time to prepare. I cover that here: Resolving Conflict when Others Disappoint, Step 2 – Preparation.