This Tip Can Save You From Drama

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I've seen way too many friendships destroyed over this simple mistake.

Alright, this is going to sound simple, but it's been powerful for me. If you end up saying, "Duh, I already do this," then congratulations: You're one of the few.

I've lived with a lot of people in groups of four to 40. When you live with people, conflicts inevitably arise. I've been on both sides of conflicts, and I've also watched other people deal with their own fights. And I've noticed that the vast majority of conflicts are caused by one simple mistake.

If someone irritates you — say, they leave their clothes all over your shared living room, or they constantly crack insulting jokes — you have three choices.

Choice 1: Talk to them.

Choice 2: Forget.

Choice 3: Silently continue to blame them.

Choices 1 and 2 are perfectly good choices. But many people choose option 3, to their doom and destruction.

When someone doesn't bring up a problem but continues to blame, they may think of themselves as a noble figure, suffering in silence. But in reality, their anger comes out in tiny, painful ways. They avoid eye contact with the person they're mad at. They pick fights over other little things. Sometimes, they can't bottle up their feelings any longer and erupt in fury. Worst of all, they gossip behind the other person's back, turning friend against friend.

I once had a friend — let's call him Mike — who wanted to ask me a question while I was working.

"I'm working now, but let's talk about it later," I told him. He spent the next few years glaring at me and gossiping behind my back, and I had no idea why. Finally, we sat down and talked about it, and he revealed that his anger originated with this simple exchange.

The problem wasn't really about my work or his question. It was a case of mismatched social norms. In Mike's mind, friends must always drop everything when another friend wants to talk. In my mind, there is no such social rule. But instead of explaining himself, or letting it go, Mike chose to make my life hard for years.

Mike wasn't unique. Everyone follows a different set of social rules. And yet, people tend to imagine others follow the same set, making misunderstandings practically impossible to avoid. You can't tiptoe around social norms that you don't know exist.

So the bottom line is, it's the responsibility of the person being bothered to bring up the issue, not the person doing the bothering. That may seem unfair, but it's the only way. Because no matter how annoying someone might be, there's a good chance they have no idea they ignored your social rules.

If you bring up the problem, assume your friend/roommate/acquaintance doesn't know they've been bothering you. Chances are, they'll be surprised to hear your complaint and happy to change their behavior or find a solution that works for both of you. And if the problem doesn't bother you all that much, then you can simply forget about it.

If you don't want to bring up the issue, then you've chosen to accept things as they are. And if you continue to hold a grudge, the conflict isn't your friend's fault anymore; it's yours.