I don’t mean this to be offensive, but. Words that often accompany a probe, no not an alien impregnating you or stealing your information, The nature of the conversation depends on the nature of the relationship, when I hear those fateful words from people I really don’t know or have a relationship then my bullshit radar beeps into action, why is that? Well when someone says that they don’t mean it to be offensive it probably is going to be offensive. They are going to express an opinion, and we know that opinions are like farts, hard to hold in, when they slip out everyone is going to notice and often someone ends up leaving the room! I know with people in this group that most likely I have done something that they don’t agree with or I may have even offended them and rather than approach the matter directly they will use a parable or some other narrative to cloak their problem. Pretty easy to deal with but choices in how to deal with them are myriad.
Most often conflict is a choice when presented with the above scenario I could just listen nod my head and make general grunting noises. I could listen for a while and say actually you are being offensive and I prefer not to listen to what you say. This may have the desired approach, a mature response or the other person may attempt to re–engage you in what now has essentially become conflict. This is where it becomes difficult, if you re-engage you have entered the conflict zone, taken a position and then are left having to defend your position. If the other party is mature they may well recognise that there is nothing to gain in an ongoing argument
The second way to deal with “I don’t mean to be offensive” is to go to flight mode in the conversation, a well-trained flight response, a blush comes over your face, your heart rate begins to increase, your body starts to manufacture hormones, essentially you are ready to engage or run away as fast as you can. This can be a legitimate tactic, think “oh is that the time, it’s been great, catch up another time, or perhaps, I have a headache, do you have any Panadol? I can feel a migraine coming on or any number of other headaches or ailments that your imagination can manufacture. Classic flight, this can be a very effective response, it empowers you, changes the dynamics, the danger in such a response is the other person is disempowered and may react aggressively in an attempt to get you to engage, don’t do it, don’t respond to any insults or slurs, just make your apologies and leave.
The outcome that I have observed most often is a classic fight response, nostrils flared, eyes opened wide, leaning forward you hiss something like bullshit or what a load of old twaddle. The gloves are on and the point scoring has begun. If there are others in the room often they are either wittingly or unwittingly drawn in to the conversation, either side in the conflict will say things like don’t you agree, it is just like.
I am reminded that there is another response and that is the freeze, where the subject of the discussion is so devastating that one just freezes and is left feeling powerless and broken.
Now you can choose to engage with this, and inside you feel angry and upset, you may be hearing things you don’t want to hear, often they are cloaked with words like I am not saying this about you at all, and you will hear references like don’t take this the wrong way or, repeats of I am not being offensive but. Voice levels will rise and without intervention the gloves will come off. Responses like talk about the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you remember when you?
Essentially you are at war and it is hard to resolve the conflict. This often ends badly, sometimes tears, sometimes storming out of the room and I have witnessed on occasion fisticuffs, nasty stuff borne of what? Well take your pick a need to be right, a desire to punish someone for a slight and even from a belief that the other person is just getting it so wrong that they will be in trouble, so good intentions can be a prat of this however a skilled facilitator will know that the path they have gone down often leads to a huge mess.
The final aggravating factor is when one or both of the participants have been drinking alcohol or using other drugs. Your reserves are down, you can let caution be thrown to the wind and make decisions or say thing that in the cold light of day may be embarrassing. A word from someone who has been both the engager and the engagee, leave the drugs alone, or if you have been drinking it is not a good idea to start a conversation around this is not meant to be offensive.
The pure and simple truth is that if you have to preface a conversation with this is not meant to be offensive than you are very likely to be offensive. You need to decide is this worth getting into conflict over, or encouraging people to choose sides, the opposite of this is that generally these kinds of conversations end badly, so be polite and respectful and withdraw and no matter what the enticement is don’t re-engage. Find another way to deal with conflict that is caring and unlikely to be as offensive. A difficult thing to do but in my experience so much more successful and honoring, it most likely will leave relationships intact but more perhaps on that later on.
The reality of this post is that I write it to myself as I am still on my journey when it comes to this, and those of you who know me are entitled to pull me up should I begin a conversation that includes the words offensive.