Two different people recently contacted me for my advice on virtually identical situations that arose in the wake of California’s decision to solemnize same-gender relationships.
One woman was concerned about her job in a pro-gay workplace because a friend and co-worker had been disappointed with her inadequately enthusiastic response to his announcement that he and his lover were driving to California to get married. She wanted help expressing her real love for this man while still standing firm in her beliefs.
Another man’s company had created a pro-gay workplace initiative and then solicited employee feedback on it. He, too, was concerned about his job, but he also felt compelled to say something consistent with his conservative Christian beliefs.
Since I expect such difficulties to become far more common, I’ll share with you the principles I advised them to use.
Principle 1: Apologize in advance.
In confrontation, people mistakenly think that playing the “big fish” role will portray strength, perhaps even intimidating the other. In reality, humility best expresses strength, whereas bluster generally indicates weakness. Insecure people always get this backwards. Only the strong can control themselves enough to take the humble approach, and there is no more humble yet powerful thing to do than apologizing at the outset.
Principle 2: Say it before they do.
Generally, we try to hide anything that makes us or our position look weak. Not only is this dishonest, but such things tend to come out anyhow, and it’s always better to control the release of information than to be caught by it. Besides, it’s very disarming to have someone plainly divulge the worst about themselves. So admit anything you’re tempted to conceal, such as your religion, your personal biases, and especially your worst fears. Admitting feared reactions can often prevent them because people dislike being predictable.
Principle 3: Get permission.
Whenever you anticipate a negative reaction, soliciting permission to proceed means the other person has agreed to share responsibility for whatever difficulties ensue. Luckily, this is the easiest one of all because almost no one declines. Curiosity virtually compels their consent.
Principle 4: Be hurt, not angry.