Have you ever been in a situation with another individual where you have absolutely no idea what they are thinking? Many times in relationships (whether professional or personal), people assume that the other person knows what they are thinking. There seems to be a subconscious need to be understood based on pure observation.
Often, individuals assume their body language, tone, or comments should be enough to convey what they are really feeling. Those things can definitely indicate that someone is upset, but what is often overlooked is that others most likely won't understand WHY that individual is upset.
When someone can tell that another person is upset or irritated, they may ask if something is wrong. If the person replies "nothing" but there clearly is something wrong, it leaves the questioner a few options:
- They take your reply at face value and drop it. This can result in the upset individual being able to work through their issues privately OR it may result in greater upset if the individual feels like the questioner "should have known" what was wrong.
- They continue to believe that something is wrong and push for more information (possibly doing more damage) OR they assume that they have done something wrong and attempt to address possible issues.
Neither one of these are great options, primarily because there is not enough information to make an informed decisions.
What adults need to remember, (and kids need to be taught) is that no one can read minds. In the absence of information, much energy is expended, oftentimes in the wrong direction, to try to right some perceived wrong. If you are upset about something or with someone, you owe it to yourself and them to be direct and forthcoming.
Here are some tips:
- If you are upset about something, think through exactly what it is that is upsetting you. Writing it down helps.
- Be honest with yourself about why you are upset. Is it justified, or are you being unreasonable? Honest assessments about your feelings are important to be able to communicate accurately.
- If you are upset with an individual, be specific about why.
If someone asks you "what's wrong" and you aren't ready to talk, or it's none of their business, try some of these responses:
- I would prefer not to talk about it, but thank you for checking
- I am upset, but it's not about you (as long as that's true)
- I would like to talk about it, but I need to think some things through first.
If you ARE ready to talk:
- Be specific
- Keep your voice quiet so that the content of your comments are heard. Yelling provokes a defensive response, and disrupts understanding of the issue.
- Understand that just because you are providing information about why you are upset, you may not get the response you hope for. Be specific about what you want in the conversation.
And remember - the time and energy expended either fruitlessly trying to find out what is wrong, or stewing about a perceived conflict can never be recovered. It is always better to address a conflict directly.