The Resentment Factor in Communication

resentmentWe resent people because of the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor.  So many people internalize what other people say, even though the comment wasn’t directed at or meant as a reflection on them.  They just can’t help wondering if the other person thinks the same thing about them or how they stack up in comparison to the comment just made.

Quick quiz – You hear: “John did a nice job on that project.”  Do you immediately think –

A)     John really did do a nice job; he is very talented.

B)      John did a nice job, yes, but last week I also did a great job, if anyone happened to notice.

C)      I could have done just as well or and an even better job than John, if given the chance.

All of these responses are very common, noting that two of the three are inwardly focused on WIIFM.  Rationally we know that a comment on John’s work is unrelated to our work (assume this is true and you’re not on the same team or in the exact same job) but often we can’t help but reflect inwardly and apply the same standards to ourselves.  This is because we are competitive (aka ‘survival of the fittest’ thank you, Darwin) and we are social – we not only are compelled to stack ourselves up against others, we like to surpass them when possible.  And we resent them when we can’t, especially if we think they have an unfair advantage.

This resentment can make communication difficult – how can you communicate with someone who bears you a grudge, warranted or not?  “If you would just let me explain…” you feebly offer onto deaf ears.  Often people who resent others can’t/won’t listen – to reason or anything else.  Emotion rules.

I am very different from everyone in the family I married into, and not in a beloved sort of way.   Well, over time you do grow on people, but initially it wasn’t easy, on a then 19-year-old.  I was, and am still, a very active person who takes on more than I should, in a constant quest for ceaseless productivity.  Hmmm…somehow this makes (some) people uncomfortable.  My low energy sister-in-law said under her breath one day while I was visiting, “What is she working on NOW” and I knew then that I would be resented by her for probably my entire life.

Resentment is defined as “bitter indignation at having been [or perceived to have been] treated unfairly”.   While I have no doubt that my SIL resents me – my energy, my productivity – as a perceived negative reflection on what she isn’t, still I ask the universe: how exactly can I be the source of her resentment, since I have zero blame for whatever treated her unfairly?  Maybe you think she is merely jealous, but that’s not it because given a choice, she wouldn’t choose to be me, to live my life.  No, she’s not jealous; she just resents me for living it and for apparently enjoying it!

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Remember that the tendency is to internalize much of what is heard and seen, so if you are capable, you can be resented without ever knowing or intending for it to happen.  When someone resents you, either overtly or covertly, the best way to deal with it is always the direct way, head on.  Ask them to help you understand why there is friction between you and see if you can logic your way to a resolution.   That is, only if you care enough about the person to do so, because it’s not comfortable to be confrontational, even in a nonthreatening way.  Resentment is a weed in the garden of communication that must be gotten rid of if communication is to flourish.

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