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15 December 2009 @ 12:27 pm
I say tomato, you say tomato  
A conversation this morning about different ways of handling complaints in a relationship (friendship, romantic, family, whatever) makes me wonder:

When someone does something that rubs you wrong, how do you handle it? What influences your decision to bring it up or sit on it? If you bring it up, does simply saying it address your concern? Do you make suggestions for change? If there's no change to be made, do you still bring it up?

When you're doing something that rubs someone the wrong way, do you prefer for them to bring it up? How does that work best for you? Do you want to hear complaints even about things you can't change, or only about things that you can?
I'm feeling: curiouscurious
Beahbeah on December 15th, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
It depends on the context. For example, I find this much harder in professional relationships than in personal ones. In a personal relationship, if I'm being my best self, I might say something like, "In the future, would you try to make x change in the way you handle situations like this," or "For future reference, I would appreciate/prefer it if you handled this like so instead of thus." I might also add why, saying something like, "When you do x, it makes me feel y."

I think the same approach works well on me. I do want to hear complaints about things I can't change, partly because I believe that there are often solutions that aren't readily apparent but that can be worked out with more brains thinking about the problem together. Even if I truly can't change the thing in question, it's better to know it exists so I can be prepared to deal with it if need be.
David Policardpolicar on December 15th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
In general, I sit on things much more than I should. Simply saying it helps a little. Having the other person listen and acknowledge receipt helps more. Converging on a shared model of the situation with the other person helps LOADS.

I prefer to believe that if I am not hearing complaints, then everything is OK. This pretty much requires people to complain about stuff if there's a problem. I don't really like being complained to, but it beats the available alternatives.
Rowan: Fallmzrowan on December 15th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
As I suspect everyone else will also say, whether I bring it up depends on both how close the relationship is and how much it bugs me.

That said, in general I think I'm more on the side of bringing things up than many people I know, if I think it's something that's likely to come up again. I don't like to come at things from the perspective of "asking for change" so much as "here's a problem, can we work together on how to solve it?", although given that I'm the one on the butt-end of the problem if I'm bringing it up, I feel some responsibility to know in advance as much as I can about what would possibly make things better for me.

About there being "no change to make" -- I think there are very few things that don't have some kind of workaround that can reduce the negative effect of some situation, at the very least. More likely, there would be a situation in which I don't feel like it's reasonable to ask the other person to change their behaviour, because I'm perceiving my own reaction as unreasonable. In those latter cases, I'm still likely to bring it up, because I feel like the other person should be aware of what's going on in my head, although I try to make it clear that it's just an "FYI". And of course, bringing it up allows them to decide if they're willing to do anything to help me manage my reaction.

I very strongly prefer to hear about it if I'm doing anything that bugs someone else. As I said above, even if it's something I can't or won't change, I'd probably be open to figuring out *something* that can be done to minimize the bad.

With either speaking or hearing complaints, I feel that the best situation is a point when you're both calm and not hurried, some time after the moment has passed, but not too long after (being around someone who is "simmering" is a particular trigger for me).
Boring Nerdsignsoflife on December 15th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)
I am, personally, finding it hard to parse these responses without examples. It all feels very abstract.
Susan Constantsconstant on December 15th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)
Me too. When I hear "complaints" and "rubs you wrong" I kind of quickly go to a first line, before wondering how to bring it up, which is to examine it internally first. There are two kinds of complaints I have in general with people, and one kind is "things that annoy me but that are pretty much my own deal." Often when I wonder whether to bring it up to the other person instead of just kind of blurting it out with little forethought, it is the small smart inside voice saying "actually, maybe you should bring this up to you."

(Not that I've never told, e.g., my husband that X annoys me and could he prevent X though I have thought it through and know that X is a totally neutral thing and that it's me making a request. Just that without knowing whether you mean legitimate interpersonal complaint vs. inside stuff coloring my interaction with someone, I can't really think about the rest of the questions.)
ruthless compassion: thinkyaroraborealis on December 15th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
Ex1: Ann and Bob are on their way to the airport to catch a plane. Bob is anxious about traffic and getting there on time, but Ann is waiting for something to finish that she can't hurry, so it's just a matter of waiting for the timer to ding. Ann could have started earlier, but there's nothing to be done now. If you were Bob, would you bring up your anxiety? In the moment? After the fact? If you were Ann, would you want him to?

Ex2: Cathy and Dan are working on a project together. Cathy makes a suggestion that makes Dan bristle, but he doesn't show it. After he's had time to consider it, he decides it's a fine suggestion, but it's the way Cathy said it that rubbed him wrong. If you're Dan, do you bring it up? What if you can't really identify what would avoid the bristling in the future? If you're Cathy, do you want him to bring it up? Even if it's just an "FYI, this bugged me"?
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 15th, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)
oh, ok, those are really helpful examples.

if i were bob, i'd probably sit on my anxiety, if it was clear that both of us understood the parameters of the situation; if ann asked something that i felt implied "what's up with you?" i would explain, and i hope i would emphasize that i knew there was nothing to be done and didn't expect anything, i was just anxious. i might mention it some while after the fact, in the course of saying how glad i was that it was over. and this is basically what i'd want if i were ann.

if i were dan, i'd bring it up later, even if i couldn't identify how to fix it. if i were cathy, i think i'd want dan to, because i'd probably pick up on the bristling on some level and it would make me more relaxed to have an explanation for it.
Boring Nerdsignsoflife on December 16th, 2009 12:53 am (UTC)
That's great.

In Example 1, it's definitely something to bring up later, once all the dependencies have been resolved. This is very similar to real life for me, and regular whittling at the problem has helped Amy change her behavior in a way that's acceptable to Bob. But bringing it up in the moment, while Bob is still anxious and full of anxious expectations, isn't going to help.

In Example 2, I think it would be pointless and kind of mean for Dan to say anything until he can at least articulate what's getting on his nerves so much. I'm assuming here that Dan and Cathy are colleagues, and not close friends. A close friend has a chance of figuring out what's bugging you even if you yourself can't, but that's a heavy burden to put on someone who's just trying to work with you.

If Dan can figure it out, more power to him. But "you're indefinably abrasive" just isn't actionable.

Chancemiss_chance on December 15th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
As a total aside? "I say tomato, you say tomato" was really fun in text. I read it as "I say [to-mA-to], you say [to-mA-to]," and then thought, 'no, wait, that's not how that goes.' Then I read it as "I say [to-mah-to], you say [to-mah-to]," and then thought, 'no, that's not it either...' It was hard to make myself read the same word two different ways in one sentence. :)
ruthless compassion: happyaroraborealis on December 15th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I love that! I'm glad it jumped out at you :)
unintentional baitredheadedmuse on December 15th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
it did me too.
ruthless compassion: squee!aroraborealis on December 16th, 2009 02:55 am (UTC)
Chancemiss_chance on December 15th, 2009 07:32 pm (UTC)
You always ask these interesting, thoughtful questions, that would take me hours to respond to in LJ.

I request more cocktail parties focused around thinky topics of discussion and deliberation!
ruthless compassion: flop or swoonaroraborealis on December 15th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, god, the thought of that cocktail party makes me tired!
Kcatkcatalyst on December 15th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
What, you don't think the best way to process about processing is over drinks with 50 of your closest friends? :-)

Once people reach their 3rd or 4th cocktail is when it really gets fun.....
vito_excalibur on December 16th, 2009 04:59 am (UTC)
I adore that cocktail party, and do not get to have it nearly often enough!
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 15th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
i think how likely i am to bring it up and how much i care what happens when i do depend directly on how intimate the relationship is. i don't much care whether someone i never met before does something that bugs me, because there's a limit to how much it can bug me and it's unlikely to have any chance of happening again. conversely moominmolly doing something even very minor that she doesn't know bugs me is likely to come up a lot in my life, so i'd better say something about it. i might sit on it for a while until it seems like the most convenient time to bring it up, though, because our relationship has enough emotional slack in it that i can let minor things wait a long time.

if i don't expect anything to change and it's minor, sometimes simply saying it is enough. when it's something minor or i don't expect anything to change, sometimes simply saying it and feeling like i was heard is enough.

i'm having trouble thinking of an example of something where "there's no change to be made." in either direction, if it's something i and the other person have already discussed at length before, i'll bring it up (or i'd want them to bring it up) only if it seems likely to have been forgotten.

similarly, i do want to hear complaints even about things i can't change, but not... repeatedly.

i do prefer for other people to mention when i do things that rub them the wrong way. if i knew how it worked best for me i'd probably be a happier person. :) i'm pretty sure that the more anger or blame there is in the retelling, the harder it is for me to respond gracefully. i also think there's a very tricky thing about what shared assumptions the explanation draws on: the more mistakes the other person makes about what assumptions we share, the harder it will be for me to hear them (if they start off explaining things that i think are obvious and universal as if i might not know or share them, i'll feel condescended to or judged poorly; if they leave off important assumptions that i don't share, i'll be confused or angry).
Statistical Outlier in All  Studies: hippiechaiya on December 15th, 2009 09:30 pm (UTC)
Huh. I've been reading Difficult Conversations lately, which has changed my perspective on this topic. I have thoughts, and am not sure they're fully formed/ready for public display yet. But I highly encourage anyone who's interested in this topic to read the book. :)
ruthless compassion: happyaroraborealis on December 15th, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
I actually picked this up at the library last night after seeing you refer to it in a post a few days ago! I'm looking forward to digging into it.
Statistical Outlier in All  Studies: yogachaiya on December 15th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
It's really easy to read, on the one hand, and yet I really couldn't sit down and read it straight through. I needed processing time in between segments, for some of it. YMMV. I'm glad you saw that, though -- I'm never sure how much folks are reading of my LJ, and it's such an unbalanced representation of my life, atm.
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 15th, 2009 09:36 pm (UTC)
it sounds like a useful book! i keep expecting your underlined references to it to be links, though. ;)

is this the book you mean?
unintentional baitredheadedmuse on December 15th, 2009 09:57 pm (UTC)
thanks for the link!
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 15th, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
i actually don't know if that's the book she means...
Statistical Outlier in All  Studies: bookschaiya on December 15th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, that's totally the book.

Sorry, I have trouble NOT underlining a book when I refer to it, 'cause that's what I was taught to do, according to proper grammar or whatnot. However, I also sometimes get squidgy about giving an Amazon link. It's not like Amazon needs the money, etc. ... so, I dunno. But yes, that's the book. ;)
kinesthetic chutzpahdilletante on December 15th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)
cool, thanks! i also saw your post the other day and wanted to pick it up based on reading that...
unintentional baitredheadedmuse on December 15th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
How likely I am to tell someone they've upset me is totally a function of how safe I feel doing so. The people I'm most likely to tell when they've pissed me off are total strangers (customer service people, bloggers) - I have no investment in those relationships, so I stand to lose nothing by speaking my mind.

The next most likely to hear about it are people I trust and am very invested in - lovers, close friends, family. I have reason to believe those relationships can weather a disagreement, and stand to lose a lot if I let something hurtful go and it becomes toxic between us. There I speak up, in as loving a way as I can.

The places where I don't speak up tend to be in friendly relationships that are not very close, or in professional ways where there's an imbalance of power. In those places, it feels safer to let it go and try to avoid the person or make a change on my own than to tackle the issue head on.

I pretty much always want people to tell me when I'm doin' it wrong, but I don't know that I react in a very encouraging way when they do.

veek on December 16th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
Pretty much exactly this.
Elizabeth Hunterlillibet on December 17th, 2009 04:29 am (UTC)
Oh, I can talk about this for a LONG time
I try as hard as I can to insist that people tell me when something's not working for them, when I've hurt them, etc. I don't always react well, depending on the timing, but it's an area where I've found that more communication is simply better than less. The absolute best quality in a housemate, for example, is someone who will tell me when something is wrong as soon as they realize it. Trust me, it beats throwing up on my shoes!

I have worked very hard to get better at taking criticism and reacting constructively to it. I tend to take it much better from people whom I believe are invested in me, or in the project we have undertaken together, rather than from outsiders to whatever situation I'm in. When I do take it well, I am very proud of myself, but I am not yet secure enough in that ability to be vain about it or take it for granted, which is probably for the best.

Within my marriage, I'm simultaneously very proud of our level of communication and also excited by the degree to which we continue to hone that aspect of the relationship. We bring up all sorts of things and we talk about them and we are very good at reaching some kind of resolution. That may not be a change, just an acknowledgment of the situation.

Example: a couple of days ago, I was trying to get dinner on the table and Jason failed to respond to a plea for help in as timely a manner as I would have liked, because he doesn't switch context as quickly as I do. I snapped at him (a problem behavior, which I am always trying to change) and then apologized for snapping. Later that evening we were watching tv and a character was up and moving before the person calling for help finished their sentence. I paused the show to point it out and say "see, that's what I'm talking about" and went on to basically say that I get that context-switching is not his forte and I'm cool with that and I mean to be understanding of it and change my expectations, but I want acknowledgment that it's not completely unreasonable of me to be impatient with it, even though it is something I do and will continue to work on. So there's a place where no change is expected, it's just important that we both are aware of our different perspectives.