My step daughter was killed in an automobile accident when she was 21; I was in China on business when it happened. I was supposed to have gone out to dinner with her the night before I left but I cancelled because I felt too pressured to get things done before the trip. I wish I had said yes, I wish I had made her the priority and seen her that one last time.
A young woman I know was enlisting in the Navy. One day her recruiter was driving her to an appointment and he started asking her really personal questions about her sex life. When she didn’t respond, he proceeded to tell her in detail about the women he had slept with. When he asked her if this was making her uncomfortable and if she was a prude, she didn’t really answer, just shrugged and made some awkward comment. She wishes she had spoken up and told him that he was totally out of line. It still bothers her years later that she didn’t. She wonders how many other female recruits he treated like that.
A friend of mine had a boss that was really abusive; he was always putting down his employees and yelling at them in front of everyone. He made it an incredibly difficult work environment and she was miserable. Eventually she went out on medical leave and never returned to the job. She wishes she had told her boss what she thought of him before she left. By staying silent she didn’t get any closure and the thought of visiting friends at that office still gives her anxiety, not to mention the impact that unresolved relationship has had on subsequent bosses.
We all have things we wish we had said to someone –a proclamation of love that went unsaid or standing up for oneself in an awkward situation; times where, in hindsight, we would have said things differently. In some cases, like my stepdaughter’s accident, there is no way to know that you are going to regret the lost opportunity and there is no chance to change that. But, more often than not, we have another chance to speak up and say what we want.
It takes guts to confront someone but it can be done effectively by moving beyond the emotionality of the situation. When someone says something that upsets us we have an immediate mind-body reaction. Our blood gets pumping, our anger or embarrassment rises, we can feel it in our stomach and we want to lash out. And in that case, it’s a good thing we don’t immediately say something as reacting from a place of emotion doesn’t usually have a positive outcome. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever speak up.
Avoiding conflict may be the right thing to do in the moment; however, as with my friend with the abusive boss, not ever addressing it can cost you dearly. Don’t view waiting as a missed opportunity, and don’t let it be your excuse for never addressing it. Taking the time necessary to calm down will allow you to formulate a rational response and alleviate a lot of future angst. Sometimes it can just take a count to 10, a brief pause to calm your nerves and let your mind sort through your reaction so you can respond. Other times, you may have to take a day or two to until you find a statement that feels right. Addressing an issue later, when it is less volatile, can be far more productive for all parties. Living your life saying “I wish I said that,” not so productive.