by Barb, last solo post from Key West and feeling a little sad about it
Jane Darrowfield, the sleuth in my new Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody series specializes in solving problems that while vexing aren’t appropriate for the police or other authorities. For the most part her caseload is pretty trivial. Helping a woman leave her hairdresser and move to the one at the next chair. Or asking someone to stop feeding their neighbor’s cat, in a case of alienation of feline affection.
“In Jane’s opinion, many people sadly lacked the skill to have difficult conversations with acquaintances and neighbors. Given a noisy house party or a car parked blocking a driveway, people stewed in silence–or worse called the police–when a simple knock on the door and a polite request would have done the job. It was into this breach Jane had leapt again and again.”
Of course, it turns out not everyone needs Jane’s services. When she names her hefty fee, some potential clients decide they’ll tackle the problem on their own. And that is Jane’s intent–to get people to find their own solutions whenever possible.
Jane Darrowfield is my Jane Marple. But she’s American, she lives in the indefinite now, she’s divorced, not single, and she charges for her services. She learned a lot of what she knows about human nature not just by observing her neighbors (though there is plenty of that) but by toiling in corporate America.
In some ways Jane’s skill at having difficult conversations is wish fulfillment on my part, because I hate confrontation. In situations where I had to, particularly when I worked in a day job, I could put on my big girl panties and have the dreaded conversations. I’ve fired or laid off countless people. I’ve confronted people about the kinds of behavior that often signal substance abuse. I’ve even had the dreaded BO conversation. More than once.
But the closer conversations hew to the bone, the more freighted they are with emotional truth–the interventions, the declarations of love or hate, the boundary-settings, the expressions of deep and close grief–the more difficult they are for me. I’ve gone into plenty of situations white-knuckled, hoping things will go better this time, when I should have overcome my cowardice and said something.
Not that Jane’s life is perfect. She is deeply estranged from her son and only child and has been for more that a decade, at his initiation. All three of her bridge playing friends have pointed out, not unkindly, the irony of her running around solving other people’s problems while this cavernous hole remains in her own life–and maybe she should do something about it. So she has trouble tackling the big stuff, too.
My ramblings here are about being on the initiating side of difficult conversations. Being on the receiving side is never pleasant, because the receiver hasn’t had time to work up the courage and rehearse the interaction.
But sometimes these conversations have to be had. Recently I was in a business situation where someone, or more than one someone, lacked the courage to tell me something difficult. Or they just didn’t care and figured that meant I wouldn’t care either, if they considered my perspective at all. Not hearing about it and finding out on my own made the situation much worse. I’m not sure what the plan was here. Did they think I wouldn’t notice? In our interconnected world that was never a possibility.
Lately I seem to be reading so many stories of business and personal situations where a direct conversation might have made a situation better, or would have stopped it from spiraling out of control with horrible financial, public relations, and emotional results.
Readers: What do you think? Have we lost the skill of having difficult conversations? Did we ever have it? Or are they going on all around us and only the failures attract all the attention?
Feel free to give examples of conversations that have gone well and created healthier situations and conversations that have gone awry. And also feel free to blur the edges to protect both the innocent and the guilty. In fact, we encourage it!