It's a trapA trap that people fall into is being engaged in what seems like a conversation. Once in it they realize they are in a now win situation because they are being asked to defend an action, a state of being, a decision and no answer they give will ever be right, good enough, or even satisfactory. They have lost just by speaking and spend the entire time feeling more and more exhausted, lost, stuck, and less than. It’s the art of conversation made into a passive-aggressive weapon. On the surface it seems like friends, family or colleagues are simply connecting, but in actuality they are engaging in a verbal fencing match leading to death by a thousand cuts.

Our automatic reaction is to defend ourselves. We want to engage in verbal sparring, to give as good as we get, make the other person see reason, see us. Unfortunately this just makes things worse, giving them more ammunition for further engagement and digging the hole deeper and deeper.  Of course, there’s the equal and opposite reaction, the flight vs the fight.  We simple disengage so as to avoid any sparring. We avoid conversation, avoid the person if we can and then suffer through accusations that something is wrong with us and we should “talk it out” or “get over it” and come be social!  It’s a qualified win that is in actuality no win at all. It’s  surrendering and can leave us feeling even worse because we become over sensitized to the actions of others and never have a chance to be ourselves.

One of the ways to remove ourselves from the situation is to do neither. It is to engage in interacting with these people, but not responding to conversation. The easiest way to do this is with simple declarative statements.  If they ask why you are doing something you can either choose not to respond or to respond with a statement of “I am doing this.” For example, if someone off handedly asks why you are carrying this/that/the other you can choose to say “I’m carrying my things.” No further need to explain or respond to follow-up questions. Continue carrying them and keep going with your day. Questions about what you’re wearing?  Say yes, I’m wearing this today. No need to explain why or defend it. Just a clear statement of the fact. You might add, “Thanks for noticing” which lobs the conversational ball back at the other person with no opening for further comments on that topic.  This defeats the trap of no win conversations and allows for more positive interactions. It sets boundaries without having to state them out loud, shows how you wish to be treated without confrontation, and allows you to expend your energy doing and being what you want. Which is a positive for everyone.