MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele and this is the Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders who have dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. How they fell down, how they pick themselves up, and how they hope workplaces can change in the future.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I don’t know about you, but I will go to great lengths to avoid conflict at work. Like the time when I was scared of my boss for months, I was so convinced I was doing a bad job. And so, I physically avoid did him, ducking around corners or hiding in the bathroom, like some stupid French farce. As if the moment our eyes met over the water cooler, he was going to launch into a critique of me and everything about me. I’ve accidentally deleted emails that scare me. I’ve even quit jobs rather than working through conflict. When I’m forced into a difficult conversation I can’t hide from, it consumes me and becomes very personal. It’s really hard to shut out the bad feelings and they take over so that I’ll lose a whole day fearing a difficult conversation. I think like a lot of anxious achievers, I fear conflict mostly because I fear shame. It never occurs to me that a conflict is about another person, us as a unit working together, or even based on a systemic issue. No, it’s always about me. I’m the bad girl. I’m bad at my job. I did it wrong. I seem to regress about three decades. And so, I have two go-to reactions and both of them are sort of immature. And I don’t think either of them serves me very well. I might blow up and start to throw bombs, as a couple’s therapist once put it. Or I go silent and I retreat. But the thing is, conflict is a part of life. It’s healthy and it’s necessary. And you can’t lead if you can’t handle it. It never occurred to me that conflict is a skill — something to practice. And that maybe my anxious depressive disposition might make it extra hard for me to engage in healthy conflicts.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Like every negotiation or interaction at work, it’s good to develop these skills and plan around a difficult conversation or a conflict, so that you’re more likely to get the outcome you want, but you can protect yourself and your mental health in the process. So, as I thought personally about better ways I wanted to approach conflict at work, I immediately thought of Amy Gallo, author of The HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict and the co-host of the great HBR podcast Women at Work. Here’s my conversation with Amy, where we learn more about why conflict is so hard and what we can do about it.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Hi, Amy Gallo.
AMY GALLO: Hi Morra. So nice to hear you, see you, be with you.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well, same. I’m going to ask you a question that I actually, I don’t think even though we know each other, that I know the answer to — which is that you are an expert on managing conflict in the workplace and difficult conversations. How? Why? [laughter]
AMY GALLO: Yeah.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: What started this journey for you?
AMY GALLO: Oh gosh. I mean, if I really think about it, it started with having divorced parents and having to sort of navigate having two households and being the daughter of two people who didn’t speak to each other. And I think from an early age, I was really interested in how people handled contentious interactions. And then, fast forward to my early career, I was a management consultant. I worked for a firm that focused on strategy and organization. The most fascinating part of that job, for me, and while my colleagues were very interested in like, “what’s the best strategy for this organization? Let’s create a really fascinating deck for them.” I was really intrigued on what happened in the meetings. So, what was being said, what wasn’t being said, how could you bring up issues that were going unspoken, so that people could talk about them. And honestly, the more contentious things got, I thought, the more interesting because, for me, that was where the work was actually happening. The work of sorting through what is it we need to do? How are we going to interact with one another? How are we going to push forward whatever it is we’re trying to push forward? This strategy, initiative, project. To me, it’s really about how people interact that makes anything happen, and conflict’s a part of that.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: So, you weren’t scared of conflict, it sounds like?
AMY GALLO: No, certainly not in the job as a consultant, partly because it didn’t seem, you know, as a consultant you’re outside—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right—
AMY GALLO: You’re outside looking in and so it never seemed personal to me. And I do, of course, as we all do feel uncomfortable in the conflicts about me, my really relationships, my needs, my future. But, in general, I find conflict, something that I think we don’t do enough, as humans. And certainly, don’t do enough in a healthy way. And so, I think of it more as an opportunity, I think, than something to be afraid of.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I love that framing — a necessary discomfort to sort of progress, to achieving progress.
AMY GALLO: Yes. Because ultimately conflict is something we cannot avoid. And in fact, if we avoided it completely, which many people try to do, we’re not going to get what we need, and we’re not going to stay in relation with other people. We think that, by avoiding conflict, we’re preserving the harmony between us — the relationship between us and another person. And that might be the case some of the time. But ultimately, I think of it as an act of love or respect to say the things that are hard to say, to have the conflict, to surface the different opinions that we both hold, and to sort through them together.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I think that there’s two parts to managing conflict, and you can correct me because I think most of us may come into preparing for a difficult conversation or a structured conflict at work with those good intentions. But then we handle it so badly because our emotions get in the way. I speak from experience. My big thing is that I get flooded with emotions and really anxious. And so, I sort of become a little irrational sometimes in the middle of a conflict, even though I begin with the best intentions. Is that what your work is — actually helping people execute the conflict well?
AMY GALLO: Yeah. And I think what you’re talking about is completely normal, right? What’s happening physiologically is that you’re, and you know this, is that your prefrontal cortex is being trumped by your amygdala. So, you go into what the emotional intelligence experts call “amygdala hijack.” You’re just simply not thinking rationally, you’re reacting to the situation. So you go in calm and centered and then as soon as the situation gets tense or someone says something that upsets you, then you start reacting. And that is a completely normal thing to do. And my work — the writing I do, the frameworks, I offer the tools — are really meant to help you stay out of that “amygdala hijack,” so that you can feel more proud of how you respond in those moments. And you can hold on to those good intentions or, more likely, you can return and come back when you do go into “amygdala hijack” and things go off the rails, which they often do, even for me, even for people who try and who do this all the time. But you can come back to it, readdress it, try to come to a different resolution and a different process that feels true to who you are rather than, “Oh gosh, I lost it. I didn’t stick to what I really intended.”
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I want to pull back and frame this conversation because this is a show for people who feel anxious. And people who are anxious, I believe, probably, maybe a different relationship to conflict because, I think, as we’ve just sort of established, conflict is anxiety provoking for most people.
AMY GALLO: Yes.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: And so, if conflict, and avoiding conflict, and feeling anxious in social situations, or being perfectionistic, whatever, is a struggle for you, then conflict has to have heightened stakes, I would imagine.
AMY GALLO: Yes. And I think if you feel anxious about interacting with other people, or if you have some sort of social anxiety, I do think conflict of is going to feel particularly difficult. You’re already nervous about preserving your relationship with someone or having that interaction or coming off in a certain way, appearing a certain way. And so, conflict is going to feel like a threat to all of those things. And I can imagine someone very smartly saying, “I’m going to avoid conflict because it’s a trigger for me. It brings out my anxiety. It makes me feel incredibly anxious.” But I would posit that avoiding conflict is actually probably worse for your anxiety in the long run because putting it off often means the underlying issue that needs to be addressed, isn’t being addressed. There’s this concept that Liane Davey, who is a team expert, she talks about conflict debt. So, as teams — this is really, she talks on the team level — teams don’t address business issues that need to be addressed because it’s going to be a difficult conversation, eventually get into debt. And meaning that there’s this idea that there’s this tension that’s festering, that’s getting worse over time. And the further out from the original incident or the original idea that you get, the harder it becomes to address. And I think that’s true on an interpersonal level, too. So, if you and I have a tough interaction about this project plan we’re working on — we don’t see eye to eye. And I just ignore the fact that we don’t agree and rather than surfacing that and trying to sort it through, at some point either it’s going to become too late because the project plan’s going to be set, or you and I are going to continue to have these tense interactions where our relationship’s going to get worse and worse. And so, avoiding that will create more anxiety for me or for you in the long run than actually addressing it at the time. I often think of difficult conversations as short-term discomfort for long term gain. And the gain is better work product, stronger relationship, even more confidence. I mean, I think one of the things that I’ve gained from developing skills around conflict resolution, difficult conversations is I’m not afraid that things are going to go south with someone or that there’s going to be some tricky situation that we have to navigate. I have a lot of confidence that I can do that, I have the skills to do that. And it makes navigating the world, it makes navigating my relationships, going to the coffee shop, dealing with difficult colleagues — it just makes it all a little bit easier. And I think that’s one of the things, if you struggle with anxiety, to realize is that these skills will really help you with anxiety, not sort of increase the situations in which you feel anxious.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: A lot of social anxiety, theorists believe, is really about a fear of being shamed, right? Ellen Hendrickson calls it the fear of the reveal, right? That if you go into this conversation and it gets contentious and you aren’t able to hold your own, you will be found out for the total incomplete, utter failure that you really are. And you’ll no longer be able to fool people into thinking that you’re a competent, smart person, right?
AMY GALLO: Yep, yep.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I think you’re right in that fear of being shamed, which I can relate to so strongly — of being stepped on in a difficult conversation, can really drive avoidance. And I’m wondering if you have advice on like working through that?
AMY GALLO: Yeah. And, I think that, you use the word shame. And I think that that no one wants to feel that. And it might be the shame of being the reveal. It might be the shame of feeling like you were wrong or you look stupid or—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: It’s your fault—
AMY GALLO: You didn’t know your stuff. Right? It’s your fault. You made a mistake. Right. All of that. So, I think that that shame is a huge motivator to avoid. But I think one of the sort of mental shifts I’ve had to make is that, it’s easy to think that there’s a winner and a loser. There’s someone who’s right and someone who’s wrong. There’s someone who’s smart and someone who’s not. There’s someone who’s made the mistake and someone who’s suffered the mistake. And one of the things I really try to do is think about that there’s three entities. It’s not just you and me, but there’s this third entity, which is the question at hand — the business issue we need to solve, the decision that needs to be made. And ultimately we both want what’s best for that. And so, I may be wrong, but the fact that we made a good decision, ultimately, means it’s a win for everyone. And that helps me sort of skirt that shame. No, I’m not going to say I completely avoid it. I still might feel it, but I can get through it more quickly if I know that ultimately what we want is a better decision. Or even a stronger relationship. Getting through making a mistake, a difficult conversation, navigating who’s going to get their way and who’s not. Getting through the other side of that shows you and I can have these difficult conversations and we still will keep our relationship intact. And that’s incredibly solidifying for a relationship. And anyone who’s been through tough times with someone — a friend, a spouse, a business partner — and has come out the other side can recognize that oftentimes we’re stronger as a result of that conflict.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: It’s interesting, I’m reminded of two pieces of sort of leadership negotiation theory that feel relevant to me. I’ll throw them out, and you can react. The first is the work of Ron Heifetz, who really tries to get teams and groups focused on the work at the center, so that they can tune out a lot of the interpersonal stuff. And I think you’re saying also that aligning around the goal that is not necessarily about you or me, but is about us and what we both care about is important. And that also, there’s a gender angle. And I know we both know the work of Hannah Riley Bowles, right?
AMY GALLO: Yes.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: …at Harvard who has done a lot of work around women in negotiating that shows that women, when they are negotiating, if they make the ask not about themselves — I’m not going to get richer off this — but the team, someone else is going to benefit, they do better.
AMY GALLO: That’s right.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: But I also, as someone who struggles with this have found, like if I can separate my ego and my emotion and make it about the work, the team—
AMY GALLO: Yes—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: …the X, Y, Z, it goes better.
AMY GALLO: That’s right. And I think that’s Hannah Riley Bowles work around that is interesting. Because they do show that it’s important for women to do that in order not to suffer the social penalty that women often suffer for being assertive or for negotiating on behalf of themselves. But I actually believe, while it’s imperative that women do that, it would be good for everyone.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I agree—
AMY GALLO: …regardless of your gender, if you did that, right? Because it would take this sort of tug of war that often negotiations or difficult conversations become and make them more collaborative. And it would de-personalize the argument for everyone. So we would all leave with our egos more intact or more comforted. And then, actually, I’ve heard it, what you’re talking about with Ron Heifetz — I’ve heard it, like Harvard negotiation project calls it, putting yourself on the same side of the table as your counterpart. So, rather than seeing yourselves on opposite sides engaged in a battle, you’re working together to solve a problem. And the problem, let’s be clear, because sometimes the conflict is about your interpersonal relationship. So it’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, who was inappropriate, who said what. It’s about how do we get our relationship back on track, so that we can work together going forward. And I think that if you constantly see the person as your partner in that and try to enlist them to be your partner in that, it’s just going to feel better. Definitely for you, especially if you feel anxious, but also it’s going to feel better for that other person and for your relationship.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: So, Amy, let’s talk about practicing. Say that one of your goals, maybe you are in a new role or you’re getting a new job or you just don’t want to be scared of conflict anymore — how can you kind of set up a plan to practice on low stakes conflicts—
AMY GALLO: Yes—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: …so, that maybe you’re better prepared when a higher stake conflict happens?
AMY GALLO: Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m practicing this all the time. I practice it when I’m in the coffee shop and three people jump in front of me in line, right? I’m practicing this certainly when I’m parenting my 14 year old. There’s lots of opportunities to practice advocating for yourself, being clear about what you believe, enlisting the other person, and helping you solve the problem. There’s so many elements of this that you get to practice every day. And I think you’re right, that you want to practice in low stakes situations. One of the things I think we often assume is that we should just be good at this. This is just part of interacting with people. Why don’t I know how to do this? But I don’t know about you, but no one ever sat me down and was like, “here’s how you have a good productive fight.” You know, these aren’t skills anyone teaches us.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh, excuse me, like you, my parents went through many your years where they wouldn’t speak. And they would literally make me and my sister interpret, “Tell your father to pass the salt.” At my college graduation, they sat at opposite sides of the table and weren’t speaking. So, even though they came to the dinner for my college graduation, they wouldn’t speak. So, I would literally have to pass the salt.
AMY GALLO: Right. So now, your model of conflict is completely ignore it. Find someone else to communicate on your behalf, right? That’s often what we learn is either completely ignore it, which is for many people the model, or it’s going to just be an all-out fight. And it’s okay to scream. It’s okay to say hurtful things. And that’s not good either. I mean, I do appreciate that people are raising the issues, but doing it in a way that doesn’t leave people feeling intact is not a good way to handle conflict either. And so, I do think that we need to practice and we need to find ways to try out some of the skills around staying calm, staying focused, keeping our intentions front and center, trying out different ways of saying things. And I do think you want to not practice this with your new boss right away. Right? You don’t want to necessarily practice this with an important client, first thing. You want to try it out in smaller situations. So, it might be with a good friend. It might be over “where are we going to have dinner?” Right. They suggest a restaurant that you really don’t like, how do you handle that? And with a good friend, it might be really easy. You might just say, “I don’t want to go there.” Right? But knowing that you can advocate for yourself and framing these situations that we negotiate all day long. We’re actually having many difficult conversations quite often when we’re interacting with people — and to think of it that way. I was able to advocate for what I needed. I was able to stay calm, even though we didn’t see eye to eye, I raised an issue that I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received by the other person. And it went okay. And then sort of slowly increase the stakes of doing that by doing it with people you don’t know as well. Perhaps you have a more important relationship with, and the relationship with them maybe feels less safe. I think that’s how you sort of get better over time just by practicing — doing it over and over again.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I like that. And it seems to me also that, I mean, no one has the same issues around conflict, right? For you, your issue might be that you’re worried you won’t be able to stand up for yourself and you’ll feel dumb. For me, it may be that I’m greedy and I’m going to not get paid what I think I’m worth. For another person, it might be that they get really nasty and angry and ruin a friendship.
AMY GALLO: That’s right—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right? Because they blow up. I think part of it is maybe understanding — really pinpointing like what your specific area of focus almost should be to practice.
AMY GALLO: Yeah. Well, and I think one of the things — what I talk about in my book, and it’s an oversimplification but I think it’s a helpful model, is to think about: do you tend to avoid conflict or do you tend to seek it? And obviously, there’s tons of nuance there. You might not do the same thing in every situation. But when you think about going into that “amygdala hijack,” when your best intentions go out the window, do you tend to avoid — are you trying to get out of the conversation or do you lean into it and sort of stir the pot? Knowing what your default is can help you have some self-awareness and then think about, well, is this really the right way to respond for this situation? Or is it what I just do in a knee jerk way because when I’m triggered, this is how I react.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: OK, so you have a process for doing conflict better.
AMY GALLO: Yes.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Can you talk us through that?
AMY GALLO: Yeah. So this is actually a four-step framework that I think about as before you even have the conversation. So, when we think about trying to — you mentioned going in with the best of intentions, and then those intentions flying out of the window. Trying to really be as — make the right choices about how to handle the conflict and to stay connected to your prefrontal cortex, so you are making rational, thoughtful decisions in that moment. And the very first thing in this framework is to think about the other person. That’s not necessarily going to be what you do, especially if you’re in “amygdala hijack” because we become naturally narcissistic. But you want to think about how do they handle conflict? What’s at stake for them here? What is it that they care most about? What could be a rational explanation for their behavior? And if that sounds like too other focused — ultimately, this is a really selfish step because you’re trying to break your own rumination, open yourself to other interpretations of what’s going on. It can feel really good to be like, “Morra and I are fighting because Morra is passive aggressive and she always has been. And that’s what I need to address here,” right? Just telling myself such a crisp story—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: She sucks—
AMY GALLO: …that casts you at the end as the enemy and me as the hero. That’s really what we’ll do if left to our own devices. So, thinking about you, thinking about, okay, if I was in Morra’s shoes, how would I see this situation? What might actually be going on for her that I’m not seeing, that I don’t understand. What pressures is she under from her boss or from home life, whatever. Thinking that through opens me up to different stories and different. It just makes me more able to be collaborative, more empathetic, more passionate — all of which is not just about the other person. It is generous of course, to think that way for them. But it’s not ultimately about generosity. It’s about getting yourself in the right mindset. And hopefully, gathering some information that can help you, then once you’re in the actual discussion that can help you navigate and propose something, a resolution, that will not only meet your needs, but will meet the other person’s needs as well. So, that’s step one. Step two is to think about what is it that’s actually at stake, what are we actually disagreeing about? Because it can be easy — and this is something I do — instinctively, I have to fight all the time, it’s easy to be like, “well, this is about our relationship. This is about our personality clash. We’ve never seen eye to eye on these things.” And just to make it really about our dynamic, which may be a factor. But chances are, there’s also some underlying business issue. You might be disagreeing about the goal of the project or how to get the project done, or who has more status to make this decision. And I think trying to really understand the multiple issues that are at stake and what are the most important to get resolved now. So, prioritizing, sort of threading out here are the four or five issues we disagree on or that have come up in this conversation. And these are the ones that are most important to address. And I would recommend, if they’re ones that are more straightforward — like the goal of the project, if that can be easily clarified — that can often take care of some of the other sort of softer or more relationship-focused conflicts. If you can at least get aligned on one thing, like the goal or how we’re going to roll this out or when it needs to be completed.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Are you literally saying that with your partner, like let’s just align on the goal here? Or how do you introduce that?
AMY GALLO: Yeah. I mean, I think once you think — part of the reason you want to be clear here about what you’re disagreeing about. Is that, when you sit down, you can say, “I think what’s really an issue. Here are three things.” Right? And lay them out. “We’re not seeing eye to eye on the goal. The conversation has gotten a little tense between us, which I regret. And we’re both under pressure from our boss. And so, we’ve got this communication issue that we need to be it back to our bosses about where this is going. Let’s start with that goal because I think we need to — that’ll really help us get aligned. Do you agree?” Right? And again, this is collaborative. You’re not delivering a monologue. You’re engaging them in conversation because they may have three other things that they think you’re the disagreement is about. And so, you want to give space to hear those as well. And then, the third step is to think about what is it you actually need? What is your goal in this situation? And your goal — when I’m in a rush, I can’t do all four steps, this is the one I never skip because I think it really will drive how you decide to handle of the conflict, how you will behave in the conversation, ultimately, whether you decide to let this go or dig in. And you want to figure out what is your primary goal? You might have multiple goals. Again, I want look good to my boss. I want to preserve my relationship with this person. I need this project to get done by Tuesday, or else we’re going to lose the client, right? There might be multiple things, but what’s your primary goal? And if that goal can overlap with the other person’s goal, even better, right? That way you have a shared objective that you can rally around. So in the conversation that might sound like, “I know we both care about getting this project done by Tuesday. I know the that’s really what we both want. So, in order to do that, here’s what we need to do.” Or “what do you think we need to get done between now and Tuesday to make that happen?” Again getting that person on the same side of the table gives you sort of a collaborative feel rather than we just don’t see eye to eye at all and helps guide you. It sort of gives you a north star for the conversation rather than getting dragged into all of the other stuff that’s likely going to go on in the conversation. You can stay focused. “OK my goal is to get this done by Tuesday.” Or “my goal is to of my relationship with this person because it’s my boss and I don’t want to have this contentious relationship going forward.” So, what matters most is that is that relationship. And then the fourth step is to decide what to do. So, think about what you know about the other person, right? Think about what you’re actually disagreeing about and what your goal is and decide, “OK are we going to sit down and hash this out? Are we going to lay it all on the table? Am I going to enlist a third party who we both trust who can help us sort this through? Am I going to just let it go? Right? I’m not going to do nothing?” Which is a perfectly good option. I think for the avoiders out there, this cannot be the thing you do all the time, but sometimes you do just let it go. It was a one off negative interaction that you think isn’t going to be a pattern. Or you know the person is really incapable of a rational conversation, is just going to blow up or shut down. You may decide to let it go, assuming you can still meet your goal without having to who address it. And you may just decide, I mean, this is extreme — but there is always the option, assuming you’ve tried multiple things, to just exit the relationship. That’s not always possible in a work context, but if this is a situation that is causing damage to your wellbeing over and over and over, you have to ask yourself, “how long am I willing to stick with this conflict when it’s not getting resolved?”
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Are there levels of also just sort of like, “all right, we’re in conflict, we agree to disagree, but we’re still going to have to work together.” I mean, is there a middle ground there that is ever worth exploring?
AMY GALLO: Yeah, well there’s “we agree to disagree” is not a phrase I love — partly because I think oftentimes it’s used as an excuse to not actually sort through the issues—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah—
AMY GALLO: …to avoid the conversation. When you’re genuinely hashing it out, you don’t see eye eye, and you don’t agree — agreeing to disagree, when you both can still meet your goals, I think is a perfectly fine thing to do. And sometimes there’s compromise. Sometimes it’s like, “OK you know what? You’re going to get your way this time, but I need a guarantee that next time this issue comes up, we’re going to go with my perspective or my choice in terms of how to proceed.” Or it might be, “you know what? Let’s just meet halfway.” I mean, oftentimes it’s just a sort of transactional like, “OK I obviously think this is the right thing. You think that’s the right thing. What can we come up with that we can both live with? Neither of us can be thrilled, but can we live with it? And I think that’s fine. And sometimes we do have to, especially when there’s a, a complex conflict where you might be disagreeing about the goal of the project and how to do it — and you’re mistreating each other, disrespecting one another — you might have to let that disrespect go. That’s often the hardest thing, those relationship conflicts, the interpersonal conflicts can often be the hardest thing to address. So, sometimes you might choose like, “OK I did not love the way he spoke to me in that email or the way he addressed me in front of the group, but for now, I’m going to let that go. If it becomes a pattern, I’m going to have to dig into it, but for now, at least we’re going to be able to get the project done. We’re going to be able to communicate to our bosses, all of that. And we can move on.” So, there’s a constant sort of give and take that happens in these interactions.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: My last question is, what if a conflict goes badly, and you are seized by shame, embarrassment — you’re disappointed in yourself, you’re enraged, and you can’t sleep, and you ruminate, right? This is a real thing, especially if you’re a very sensitive person. It’s hard to shake it off and go about your day sometimes when things get heated.
AMY GALLO: Yes, absolutely.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: And then you may want to write an email. Your instinct may be to try to, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to make it better. I’m going to make it better. I’m just going to write an email.” You may sort of rush into impulsivity or catastrophizing all the things.
AMY GALLO: Yes. First of all, first thing to know is you are not alone. I mean, I can’t tell you how many people I talk to, myself included, that have the 3:00 AM anxiety carousel that we’re like, “okay, what am I worried about? Oh, that interaction that went horrible, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t personally get out of bed at 3:00 AM and write the email. Although, I compose it in my head: “oh, this is what I should have said, this is what I should…” Luckily, there’s something about my brain where when I wake up in the morning, I’m like, “Oh, wow, that was not clear thinking!” Let me actually compose an entirely different email or let me just move on. But I think when you get into that rumination, I mean, you have to use all the skills you use to manage your anxiety, right? Like perspective taking. I mean, one of my favorite tips around, especially the rumination post a conflict is, “will I care about this in a week? Will I care about this in a month? Will I even remember this in five years?” Because the conflict can feel so urgent and present in that moment, but trying to look at it in the long view, sometimes you realize, “Wow, this is not going to be what I remember about this week.” Talking to someone else outside the conflict, explaining what happened, trying to sort of normalize. People interact sometimes in not always nice ways and they survive, and they move on, and that’s okay. And we all make mistakes. Right? I have had many, many difficult conversations where I did a redo, right? Where I either blew up in the conversation. I said things I didn’t mean, or I clamed up and didn’t advocate for myself. And I had to say, “Okay, you know what? I want to go back. That conversation didn’t reach the conclusion I hoped it would. And I’m not going back immediately. I’m not going back the next morning. But if I give myself a few days and it’s still top of mind for me, I will come back.” And say, “You know what, can we readdress that. I actually am not happy with where it ended up.” Or, “I’m not happy with how I behaved in that conversation. I’d love to talk about it.” That’s not easy to do, but I do think that having that do-over can be incredibly helpful because we’re not always going to be our best selves in these conversations for all of the physiological reasons we talked about. We are going to make mistake, but it’s okay to come back and have the conversation again. And, chances are, the other person is doing some reevaluation as well. And hopefully, it’s an easier conversation the next time. The last thing I will say is that, a therapist once told me when I was sort of in this rumination space around a particular issue with a friend was, ‘when you have an idea that you think we’ll solve it, write it down and then put it away for 24 hours, and then come back.” So, rather than sending the text, sending the email, thinking you’re going to address it right away — give yourself 24 hours. It’s sort of a version of the “sleep on it” advice. But really come act to it later and say, “is this actually the right thing for the relationship?” And I think bringing in other people because it’s easy to get stuck in your own head. But talk to the friend, talk to your partner, talk to people outside the situation who can give you some perspective and who are willing to sort of be very straight with you about what they think will work and what won’t.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well, as we wrap here, the rain is pouring down and I always love to think of heavy storms, almost like a reset. Thank you so much, Amy.
AMY GALLO: Thank you Morra, it’s always fun talking with you.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. Thank you to my producer, Mary Dooe. Thanks to the team at HBR. I’m grateful to our guests for sharing their experiences and truths. For you, our listeners, who ask me to cover certain items and keep the feedback coming. Please do send me feedback. You can email me, you can have a message on LinkedIn for me, or tweet me @morraam. And if you love the show, tell your friends. Subscribe and leave a review. From HBR presents, this is Mora Aarons-Mele.