As Seeds of Peace facilitators, Greg Barker and Eliza O’Neil are well-versed in the art of navigating conflict. In this installment of #DialogueIRL, we take a question wondering if it’s ever helpful to pop off—to lose your temper and yell at someone—instead of trying to start a dialogue and keep things civil.
Q: Most of the time when people say something I disagree with, I think it’s best to take the high road. But sometimes I feel it’s genuinely necessary and helpful to pop off on them, like if they make a racist comment. How do you know when that’s appropriate?
Greg: Such a good question! There are definitely appropriate times for both, depending on the circumstances. To help you decide in the moment, I’d start by asking yourself whether harm is being done—either to yourself or to others. If there is real danger, you might have to put your foot down and pop off.
For example, if you’re on a train and someone is harassing someone else, that’s probably not the right time to facilitate. You may just need to show up for the person being harassed. And when we say pop off, we’re not talking about attacking someone else. We’re talking calling someone out or shutting something down, like saying “This behavior is unacceptable” or “No, we’re not doing this.”
But it’s important to distinguish why someone’s behavior is bothering you. Is it because they’re doing something harmful, or is it because you just don’t like the way that they’re doing something? If it’s the latter, you may be starting a conflict that you shouldn’t be.
It’s not fair to be mad at someone for eating food differently than how you eat food, for example. That’s a silly conflict. But if a person is saying something that is actually hurting somebody, then you probably have a responsibility to engage.
Eliza: When it comes to whether or not to engage someone, my advice is always: “give it or let it go.” Let’s say you’re talking with your uncle and he says something you find really objectionable. You’re debating whether it’s worth engaging him, knowing that it will be a difficult conversation, or if it’s better to let it slide, because that’s “just the way he is.”
Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t say anything. Do you think you’ll be able to let his comment go? Or do you think that if you bottle your feelings up, they’ll fester until you snap at him one day because you’ve been holding back for so long?
It’s human nature to sometimes let things bottle up too long and then explode with raw emotion. So if you find yourself in a place where you have to pop off instead of starting a dialogue, don’t be hard on yourself for not having your reactions perfectly formed. Dialogue skills can help prevent things from bottling up, but if you’re at the point where it needs to comes out messily, that really is fine!
Greg: One last question that’s really helpful to ask yourself is how much social capital you have in the situation, and how much the person you’re talking to actually cares about what you think. If they don’t—like in the train example I used earlier—then it might be more effective to pop off. But if you think they are capable of engaging in an honest, vulnerable way, and are open to being changed (and if you are capable of these things as well), it’s probably worth trying. It really does depend on the situation, and hopefully these questions help you navigate that decision.
Have a question for our facilitators? Send it to dialogueIRL@seedsofpeace.org.