While I’ve mentioned before that I rarely seek out arguments, sometimes arguments seek you out.
When that time comes, I’m not afraid of conflict. I think one of the most valuable skills you can have is the ability to confront an uncomfortable situation head-on. Many people would rather give away their lives by inches rather than face a potential few minutes of confrontation, and almost no one defends that as a great choice – it’s just the default for them.
I don’t want to diminish anyone’s social anxiety. I have plenty (PLENTY) of my own weird foibles and some people are genuinely terrified of uncomfortable situations like that. But even those people generally want to improve on that metric, and so I’m going to lay out my method for using visualization to get over that barrier.
Let’s say you have a small conflict that has been thrust upon you – your server at a restaurant has brought you the completely incorrect meal. Not a small mistake, but clearly they brought an order probably meant for another table. Some people would think nothing of telling their server, but I also know people who would just eat an entirely incorrect meal rather than bring that up.
(Incidentally, in many cases I would just eat the meal too – but that’s because I would probably view it as an opportunity to try new food! But I’m also the kind of guy to say “surprise me” to servers in restaurants all the time.)
Assuming that you’d really rather have the meal you actually ordered, try this visualization technique. Imagine you politely and considerately, though firmly, called the server over and explained that you’d received an incorrect order. Then imagine the most wild, disproportionate response you can.
Say it out loud to whoever you’re eating with. Say, “I’ll call the server over and let them know that I ordered a chicken salad platter and they brought me shrimp scampi. First, the server will burst into tears, followed immediately by screaming. They’ll yell that I’m an abusive, horrible monster who hurled slanderous insults at them. The entire restaurant will start booing me and even throwing things at us, and the manager will be forced to eject us from the restaurant. They’ll call the police and claim that I assaulted the server physically, and the entire restaurant will back them up and claim they witnessed it. I’ll be arrested and the judge will be the server’s grandmother and she’ll throw the book at me. I’ll do 5 years in state prison for assault, and my cell mate will have been a server and they’ll hate me for what I did and I’ll die in prison.”
See if you can say it with a straight face.
By the time you’re done saying it, you’ll have overshot even your worst (actual) anxieties by a country mile. Compared to that ridiculous hypothetical, anything else will seem small and tame, and it’ll be much easier to just call the server over and ask for your chicken salad.
Try it next time you’re about to live a worse life because of fear of rocking the boat a little. At worst, you’ll give yourself a good laugh. But at best, you’ll see how much of a molehill that mountain really was, and step right over it.