I am an extremely competitive person. Like, beyond what is cute or reasonable. It’s something that I’m learning to embrace about myself, but it has been a journey.
If you are *ahem* passionate even when it comes to trivial game playing, it can cause communication issues. And by that I mean it can cause one to lose all control over what comes out of one’s mouth.
I was playing a board game with some friends that involved a lot of complicated rules that changed depending on what cards were picked up on each turn. For this aggressively Type A achiever, things were doomed from the start. As minutes stretched into hours with nary an ending in sight, I grew more and more frustrated. I kept having to ask questions on nearly every turn. My friend explaining the game would say, “Does that make sense?” And I replied, “I understand, but no, it does not make sense.”
Finally, I was ready to make my move for the finish line. I had all my cards ready to give me the right number of points to win, even if other players tried to block me. It all came down to a shouting match between one friend and I about how to interpret one of the cards. And then I snapped. I threw my cards down, yelled, “I’M DONE WITH THIS F#$%ING GAME,” and stormed off.
It takes a lot for me to fly off the handle. And it never feels good afterward.
After I calmed down and started feeling upset and ashamed of my behavior, I needed to apologize. I first had a lengthy one-on-one conversation with the friend who suggested the game and tried to explain the rules. Then, I made a brief statement to the whole group. My friends were incredibly gracious and quick to forgive.
There were a number of occasions to express myself kindly and productively over the course of the game. I could have said, “I’m starting to get frustrated by this game and its ever-changing rules, and I’d prefer not to play any longer,” and nipped the melt-down in the bud. But, alas, my desire to win, even at something I did not enjoy, overrode that instinct.
When we mess up in communicating our needs—whether with a partner, friend, or pastor—it’s easy to start beating ourselves up. I cried for about forty-five minutes before I could face my friends and apologize. We can’t change the past, but we can learn and, assuming we’re around safe people, experience grace.
Communication and conflict have been major areas of growth for me. So, naturally, it comes up a lot with Dr. Therapist. He likes to say, “It’s not if you say something, it’s how.”
If a friend inadvertently hurts us, or a family member keeps forgetting a boundary we’ve set, how might we learn to communicate in a way that we will be proud to look back on? And when we inevitably fall short, how might we communicate with grace and humility?