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Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the oft-times stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.

Faith WoodQuestion: I’ve heard that saying “Don’t worry” can be as poorly received as saying “Calm down.” So what words should I use to tell my boss not to worry about something since I’m taking care of it?

I certainly don’t want to have them think I’m minimizing their concern by telling them to calm down.

Answer: It’s true that the words we choose can sometimes have unintended consequences. We mean well but the words get interpreted in a different context.

Everybody worries sometimes. You might be thinking about a relationship or a situation at work that’s causing you trouble. Maybe you’re worried about your health or whether you’re going to have enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Whatever the case, worry happens whether we intend it to or not. And it becomes a problem when worry starts to take a leading role in our lives.

When it comes to assuring others that we have things under control, simply stating “Don’t worry” is unlikely to convince them that all is being handled. When something matters, we worry about it.

One choice you have is to give regular progress reports. State specifically what you’ve achieved or handled, and what’s outstanding. Use details to describe quickly how things are progressing. Worriers need details more than promises.

You may want to ask what specifically the individual is most concerned about, then address those concerns directly. Ask what it is that they will need to see or experience along the way that will help them recognize that things are running smoothly toward desired deadlines.

Need help from the Conflict Coach? Contact Faith at [email protected].

For some, worry can bring out our best. It becomes the impetus to new action. It helps us plan for contingencies and even keeps us aware of how we present ourselves to the world. So before you tell someone to stop worrying, consider whether that worry is a disguised benefit.

Question: What’s wrong with my friends?

I have a friend who is constantly giving me advice about when to start dating again (amongst other tips). It’s so frustrating. We’re both going through divorces but I feel we’re at different stages. And (quite frankly) what makes her an expert in what will be good for me?

I want to support her since we’ve been friends for such a long time but she seems stuck in a loop of negativity. Should I start giving her a dose of her own advice? How do you know when the timing is right for giving advice or simply staying clear of the advice givers?

Answer: We don’t always pay attention to the conversations around us. When we get bored or think we’ve heard it all before, we tend to tune out, catching only one word in a dozen. We fake out the person we’re with, nodding and catching the gist. Sometimes we even get away with it.

While this might be okay when the conversation isn’t important, there comes a time when you know you ought to be listening. If you’re talking to someone who matters to you, whose opinion counts, you probably want to listen up.

And you don’t ever want to give advice to someone when it’s not being solicited. What makes you so certain that you have all the answers a person needs at this moment?

Want to know what’s wrong with your friends?

That’s a reflection on your emotional state. How are you when you’re with them?

Some friends subscribe to the misery-loves-company mantra. They need to drag you down. They want to be the centre of your universe and don’t like competition. People like this will refuse to listen to your problems and are always more than willing to show you how much worse they have it. Around this kind of individual, you feel invisible or unheard.

Or worse, you have friends who like to find the flaw in your plans. They tell you all the ways you’re doing something wrong, usually under the guise of “friendly advice.”

In truth, their job is to destroy dreams and keep you right where you are. The last thing they want is for you to succeed because it would prove they could have succeeded had they tried. So long as you fail, they’re justified in not taking the risk themselves.

Is it any wonder you’re feeling negative when you hang around people like that?

Make a pact about giving advice only when you have enough insight to share and it has been requested.

Surround yourself with individuals who champion you to stay positive and focused on your own progress.

Remember all advice should be given in measured doses and a direct reflection of your journey rather than assuming you understand theirs.

Question: I’m a member of the board for a service club. I love the work this organization does in our community but lately I’ve been struggling with the negativity of one of the executive members.

It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we work as volunteers, this individual never seems to have a kind word to say. There always seems to be a problem that needs to be painstakingly pointed out. This behaviour is quite demotivating and yet this person seems to get far too much airtime for his critical feedback.

How would you manage someone like this? Or should I just resign?

Answer: Constructive criticism is fine but some people are so relentlessly negative that they can suck the joy out of life. No matter what happy news you might have, they’re guaranteed to find the cloud to fit your silver lining.

When it comes to volunteerism, it’s good to remember that we need to treat volunteers as gifts to be treasured.

This is a big problem for many people, so I have a few thoughts on coping with hypercritical people whether you volunteer, work or live with them.

Listen to the message

Is the person obscuring the message?

Maybe your critical colleague or friend is tactless or bad at expressing themselves, rather than being mean. Try to see past the messenger to understand what’s really being said.

Otherwise, you might miss out on some valuable advice.

Accept the feedback

You can decide to take crucial feedback on its own merits. That is, as a source of honest feedback.

At least with hypercritical people, what you see is what you get. If you can see past the blunt delivery, you may be able to find a kernel of truth that can improve the way you do things.

Deal with your discomfort

Criticism never feels good. Try to read your own discomfort as another source of information about what’s being said.

Does the negative feedback trigger a recognition deep within you?

Maybe it subconsciously reminds you of a past event, but maybe there’s a ring of truth in the criticism. Sit with your discomfort and see what it’s telling you.

If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen

If you can’t stand being criticized, it’s up to you not to get into situations with people who are likely to criticize you. Don’t ask for advice or expose yourself to their negativity.

They’re not likely to change, so you need to take control and avoid such conversations. Don’t share good news if you know they’ll throw cold water on it, don’t seek their praise if you know you won’t get it.

Stay out of their way

You have a choice about how to deal with negative people. You can decide not to engage with their negativity, you can ignore them or you can just avoid them altogether.

If you must have contact with a negative person at work, for example, be helpful but don’t engage with them.

Otherwise, it’s up to you whether you want to have any contact with such negativity.

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. 

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