I've been a contributing member of the workforce for a long time. I started in retail sales and before I was twenty moved into computers and technical support. Yeah, I was one of those jerks people would wait on hold for hours to talk to so I could condescend to them about technology I knew more about than they did. Except I'd like to think I was nice about it.
I was planted on an escalation line for a while in my first tech support job. In other words, if someone called and said "let me talk to a manager", they'd be transferred to me. Before then I was familiar with the concept of conflict resolution, but I'd never really lived it. Not like that.
It's not a simple concept. But there is one portion of it that's more simple than it seems, and it's one that so many people have a hard time grasping. Some of the technicians I worked with were horrible about it, and the customers...
People don't like to be told they're wrong. What happens when we tell someone 'you're wrong' or 'this is your fault' or 'why the hell did you do something so completely stupid? I can't believe you.'? Okay, so very few of us ever get to that last point, but the thing is, if we're confronting someone about mistakes, that's frequently what they hear. And what we get in response? Indignation. A wall goes up. The person we're talking to pretty much closes themselves off from the rest of the conversation. Nothing else gets accomplished.
Indignation is a huge stumbling block. It can ruin friendships, egos, and bring entire nations to their knees.
And it's so much more insipid than that. It can eat away at our self-confidence and whittle us down to little stems of insecure nothing. Because even though we think 'nuh-uh', a tiny voice in the back of our heads starts asking 'what if they're right?'. And it's contagious. Because one person gets infected with it, and if their indignation is strong enough, they spread it. To their friends and family. Back to the person who caused it. And it leaves open, festering wounds.
And it can so frequently be avoided by proper presentation. For instance, what's the difference between:
- You heard me wrong
- I made a mistake, and
- I think there's been a misunderstanding. Can we start over?
The first two assign blame. Either with the giver or receiver. Once blame is assigned, negative feelings fester. Indignation rears its ugly head. People cry. A basic conflict resolution tip I've heard over and over in so many of my jobs - don't assign blame. Never tell the person you're disagreeing with 'you did this.' It makes them indignant. It puts them on the defensive.
Once that happens it's so difficult to set right again. Neither party wants to negotiate. Someone has to give, back down, and apologize, and most people don't like to do that.
And what does any of this have to do with my writing journey? A poorly delivered critique, review, or rejection can make a person indignant. A well-delivered one can too, but at least if it's well thought out, it can soften the blow significantly.
It's the difference between telling someone "Your story is poorly written" or "I didn't understand, I must be dumb" or "There were portions of the story that weren't clear to me individually, maybe some more description would help." The first two assign blame. The last one takes the edge off, but says the same thing.
I'm familiar with rejection letters. Some are terse, especially for short story rejections. They simply say "I'm sorry, we can't accept your story at this time." Those from literary agents, at least those that I've seen, are so much more kind. So many of them include phrases like "this industry is subjective, please query widely." I have yet to receive a rejection that says "your story blows. Don't quit your day job. No one will ever read your work and enjoy it." Or even one that implies it.
Which makes it difficult to get indignant when I receive a rejection. I know, some people still do. But the kind words really help soften the blow.
And I've been dwelling on this because I think I made that one mistake this weekend that caused a repairable situation to spiral toward something more negative. Yes, I'm placing blame. But with myself. I was a bad negotiator. Instead of hearing both sides out, I went on the defensive, I told someone they were wrong, and now people aren't speaking with each other. Everyone is placing blame and no one wants to be the person to apologize because no one is in the wrong.
I was. But since I was the middle-woman, I'm not the one who can make that apology. I should have crafted my 'critique' better to begin with. And I have to wonder - is it too late to fix things?
What makes you indignant? Or if you prefer, what kind of steps do you take to keep from making other people feel that way? As writers, as people, so much of our interaction is determined by how we phrase our thoughts.