I destroyed her dream of chocolate fish. And it could have lit a conflict to last for days.
Yet, it didn’t. All because I had my favorite conflict fire extinguisher:
I refuse to have an interpersonal argument over text. Or over email, Slack, instant message, etc. And I especially don’t fight over text with my teenager.
Now this argument was brewing because of typical conflict sparks. We were experiencing these three:
- A rejection—a request that didn’t get met.
- A suspect demand—forcing or thrusting needs or wants upon someone else.
- Shared accumulating annoyance—both people share in creating recurring irritations.
So what do I do? The spark of conflict is right there, literally in my hand.
Four Ways to Avoid Conflict in Digital Messages
Text, Slack, instant message all feel like, well, instant forms of communication. While I greatly value how these media save time and create some task efficiencies, they are a terrible way to communicate when speed hurts communication. So before you respond, pause. Just consider, do I have to respond now?
(And just a little practical tip: turn off read receipts. It’s just better.)
I don’t mean ignoring forever, of course. If a decision is not urgently required, ignore the message until you can talk with the other person, either on the phone or in person. You do not have to respond right away.
If the person is persistent in asking for a response, set a boundary. “I would like to have this conversation in person. When can we talk?” Simple and kind.
Move the conversation from text to voices, and preferably, faces. If it’s someone who is literally close to you, get up and go over to their desk. Again, I love Slack and text for some things, but when confusion arises, and conflict is sparking… Well, as my Grandma Dellario would say, “You have two legs. Use them.” If you physically can’t get to them, call them.
My general rule of thumb is this: if it’s been more than three messages, and there is still confusion, stop the messaging and have a talk. This is a simple practice that I promise will save you unnecessary conflict.
So back to the chocolate fish…
I won’t go into the whole story, but this one has a happy ending.
Text 1: I received an ALL CAPS text telling me what I needed to do after school so she could make chocolate fish. Uh, simmer down there, child. [suspect demand]
Text 2: I responded with a joyful gif of the solution we had already discussed the previous day—Swedish fish. Because I’m that mom. [rejection & shared accumulating annoyance]
Text 3: She replied with her reasoning and her friends’ reasons. I’m not in the habit of allowing middle school humans dictate my schedule. [suspect demand & shared accumulating annoyance]
So I paused. Do we need to decide this now? I will see her in two hours. Nope. I ignored it so we could move the conversation face-to-face.
When I picked her up and had typical after-school greetings. Then I let her know I wasn’t going to go where she wanted to go, but offered are a few options for what we could do. We had a discussion about her goals and brainstormed a few other solutions. She picked a solution that met her goals and meant I didn’t have to drive to IKEA in rush hour traffic. Win-win all around.
There is no chance that would have gone well over text. And it didn’t need to happen in that medium. In person was the best, holistic choice for this disagreement.
This is true from ages one to 92:
Never argue over text.
So the next time you are tempted to disagree over text, remember three texts, and you’re out. I mean you could remember chocolate fish, but I don’t know if it will help you as much. May make you giggle a little…