© Gaye Wilson 2009

hand“If you don’t know [what's wrong, what you've done, why I'm upset/angry], I’m not going to tell you!”

Has anyone ever said that to you?

How did you feel?

My usual response to this exceptionally stupid statement is “What the …?”

A couple of weeks ago, someone left an organisation that I’m involved with because she had some issues with how it was being run. That’s fine, but the person had never given any indication before her resignation that she was not happy. The remaining members of the organisation were left scratching their heads in bewilderment. What did we do? How could this have been resolved? And more importantly, why didn’t the person say something????

It’s like being told “If you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to tell you!”.

What a stupid thing to say. I’m not, nor do I know anyone who is, a mindreader. I can’t know what you are thinking unless you actually say it. Why do people do this? I actually heard a senior executive say this to a subordinate one day. Say what? An executive telling a junior that she’s not happy about something the junior has done/not done, but won’t say what it was? How crazy is that?

I used to be a Conflict Resolution Trainer with the Conflict Resolution Network. One of the first principles of conflict resolution is to actually address the problem. No-one will know there is a problem unless someone says something. Problems cannot be fixed unless they are addressed.

It would have been much more productive for everyone if the person who left the organisation had said something to someone about how she was feeling. Then the person responsible for the behaviour that caused the distress could respond. No one knows how someone else is feeling. No one knows for sure what else is going on in someone else’s life. There may have been only one instance of the issue, or several different issues. It may have been because the person who unwittingly caused the distress was having a bad day, or was under a lot of stress, or was distracted, or was simply misunderstood. No one will ever know, because the issue was not addressed.

The bottom line is that conflict can often be handled well if the distressed person actually says what is wrong.

How many times have you done or said the equivalent of “If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you”?

Don’t you think there is a better way?

Speak up if there’s something bothering you. You’ll never get resolution if you don’t actually address the issue.

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4 Responses to “If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you”

  1. Pre-Workout Nutrition – Stayfitanywhere's Blog | Workouts Fitness Wisdom on December 10th, 2009 3:06 pm

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  2. Dave Meyer - Denver DISC Specialist on December 14th, 2009 12:15 pm

    Hi Gaye,

    This is a very poignant posting. I also do a lot of work in conflict resolution in combination with my work with DISC. A full 69% of Americans have a natural tendency to supress harsh thoughts and respond to conflict in a passive/aggressive manner. These people often believe that they are fully expressing their anger to others, while actually covering it up. Then they get even madder when no one tries to figure out why they are angry. It turns into one massive circle of emotions that leads to exactly the situation you describe above. They finally go over the edge and blow up and quit the group, or the relationship all the while upset that no one truly understands how they feel. One of the things we focus on in our workshops is helping these people understand exactly what you are saying above…. “No one can understand your pain if you won’t tell them why you are in pain”.

    Thanks for the article….


  3. Judith Auslander on December 14th, 2009 12:44 pm

    OMG – this is one of biggest complaints and something I emphasise when I start coaching someone. I flunked out of Mind Reading! I have no idea how to really mind read. I might try to read a mind – but I am so bad it that 90% of the time I guess wrong – and that’s the point – I am guessing. Tell me how how you feel or I will probably never really get it. I will probably feel something is wrong, but I won’t know what it is. Speak up – say how you feel – be loving and kind – but be direct. Passive/Aggressive “If you love me you would know what I am feeling” drives me nuts.

  4. Gene Gordon on April 21st, 2013 12:01 pm

    Yes, but sometimes the answer to the what’s wrong question is so obvious, the only response is “if you don’t know…”

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