Aaaaaaand then you get the inevitable question: “How can I tell if I was accurate in my assessment and justified in my actions, when the result was that nothing happened?” I don’t know about guys, but this is often a big deal for women.

I believe this has a lot to do with the way we’re socialised to deal with conflict. There currently appear to be three main schools of thought:

  • Absolutely under no circumstance do anything that could upset/offend/anger anyone. Always be polite. Never make a scene. (A bit passé now, but still present in our society. This is how I was brought up.)
  • Go utterly apeshit at the least provocation. How DARE they give you any cause for concern? Be the biggest bitch you can be; that’ll teach them!
  • It’s your Right to live in a conflict- free world. So, don’t try to learn about conflict at all. Do not develop any relevant coping skills. Act as if the world was what it should be, despite any evidence to the contrary.

Although these attitudes are very different, they have much in common. They all ignore the various levels at which human conflict can take place, opting for a one-size-fits-all strategy. They all ignore the need to take into account your personal resources before picking a strategy. Most relevant to the question at hand, they all ignore the possible costs of an inappropriate reaction – and both under- and over-reacting can cost you a lot.

What does this have to do with the original question? Well, if you subscribe to a very narrow view of suitable conflict management options, it’s really going to matter if you misclassify a situation.

Say a guy at work is making you uncomfortable. Do you ignore your gut feelings, and take him to the abandoned warehouse like he asks? Do you act out on your feelings, and bludgeon him with your chair? Do you go home and write an internet post detailing how you feel oppressed by the violence inherent in the system?

Response no. 1 may get you raped. Response no. 2 may get you locked up. Response no. 3 does not change your situation. The thing is, they are not all the possible responses. There are countless other ways of dealing with the same situation that, not being as extreme, don’t carry the same costs if you got your assessment wrong.

For instance, in the above example, you could start by telling the guy calmly and clearly that he’s making you feel uncomfortable. His reaction to that statement can give you further data points. If he wasn’t being malicious (or even if he was, because he now knows you’re on his case) the situation could be resolved right then and there, with no further worries and absolutely no bloodshed. It’s not 100% badass nor 100% polite (and absolutely not 100% guaranteed), but if it does work, the result is pretty good.

You may never know if your assessment was accurate; but if your reaction didn’t cause any damage to anyone or anything, what’s the big deal?

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