I hate hearing bad news.
No matter how big or how small the news is — if it’s bad — I don’t want to hear it. In fact I actively avoid it. My stomach drops and my palms sweat at the words, “I know you don’t want to hear this but…” or even worse the dreaded, “can I call you?”.
My heart is palpitating just writing them down.
You would think only big/life altering news would elicit this physical response. When in reality, I feel this level of anxiety over (what some would call) “small” things. Like recently, I was going back and forth with a new client at work. We were working hard to nail down contract details and it was getting heated. We had our non-negotiables and they had theirs and it was leading us to…. not negotiating.
Every email I got from them was a list of questions, changes, and concerns. This dragged on for days with multiple emails a day. It got to the point where I saw their email address pop up in my inbox and I dreaded opening it. I would look at the subject line and try to psyche myself up enough to open and read.
When I eventually opened the email my heart would flutter a bit as my eyes quickly scanned the screen for any phrase resembling “we’re cancelling this contract”.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
But even after I laugh it off, I find myself facing the same roller coaster of emotions every time something gets the least bit contentious. It doesn’t have to be just emails. I will let text messages sit for hours, putting off a response. I always give myself a 48 hour window before calling to make an appointment. I delay tough conversations with family members or friends and decide that in X number of weeks it will be the “right time” to bring up my grievances.
This reaction doesn’t come from a place of disliking the other person. In fact, I avoid things more when connected to people I love. The root of this avoidance anxiety is that I want everything to go well and everyone to be happy. I hope for the best of all possible scenarios and when I avoid that follow up email/text/call/message I can still live in a reality where there are no complications.
Or, at least, that’s what I think.
It feels safer to not rock the boat and delay. delay. delay.
The thing is, the outcome of any situation is going to be what it will be, good or bad. In my work scenario the email has been sent — the words have already been typed — I can’t change it by worrying or avoiding.
The same goes for any other scenario in life. People have their own feelings and agendas and a lot of times you can’t change that. By delaying the conversation, or delaying your ability to learn their feelings, you’re only punishing yourself. You’re giving yourself a shorter time to adapt.
That’s really why I decided to reflect on my behavior and make a change. I have fretted over emails that turned out to be positive. I’ve cried over doctor’s appointments and test results that ultimately turn out to be routine. I’ve backed myself into ridiculous scenarios by not being forthright because I was afraid of the reaction. I’ve felt anxious and nervous about conversations that ended up being really productive and healing.
Over time I have taught myself that avoiding something doesn’t change the outcome, it changes you.
Even if the worst happens, I feel confident that I have a support system around me that will help me sort through the details and give me, sound, realistic, perspective on what my next steps could be. I have confidence in myself that I can handle anything that comes my way with a measured, intelligent, response.
So I continue to open tough emails, make hard phone calls, and have difficult conversations because the more I practice the more I realize I don’t have to avoid bad news. I can handle it.