I made a Freudian slip last night. I called my husband by the name of my first boyfriend. It was embarrassing.
I did the same sort of thing. I meant to say to my husband, Please pass the potatoes, but I said, Die, loser; you ve ruined my life!
Problems rarely come in tiny boxes ” certainly not the issues we care about. Those come in giant bundles. For instance, your in-laws just walked in unannounced while you were eating dinner. You ve talked to them about giving you a heads-up, particularly if they plan on dropping in at dinnertime, and they still prance in on a whim. What problem do you address?
You don t have enough food to go around. That could be easy to discuss. They ve repeatedly promised they would notify you but are constantly breaking that agreement and losing your trust. That is likely to be hard to bring up. Finally, after turning down your invitation to join you at the table, they pout and whimper in the corner. That could be really difficult to confront.
Let s try a work example. Your boss promises you a raise and then recants. This is the second time he s promised you something only to go back on the promise, except this time he dropped the bomb in a meeting, and so you couldn t complain on the spot. When you stopped him in the hallway to bring up the issue, he told you that he was in a hurry and said you should stop being insensitive to my time demands. You asked if you could talk later, and he said, Hey, I didn t get the money I deserved either.
In each of these cases you re left with two questions that you have to answer before you open your mouth: What? and If? First, what violation or violations should you actually address? How do you dismantle a bundle of problems into its component parts and choose the one you want to confront? You have a lot to choose from, and you can t confront them all, at least not in one sitting. Second, you have to decide if you re going to say anything. Do you speak up and run the risk of causing a whole new set of problems, or do you remain silent and run the risk of never solving the problem?
Let s take these two questions one at a time. We ll deal with the if question once we ve resolved the what question.