My best friend and I have been friends for five years. From high school buddies to college brothers, we’ve had our share of ups and downs. While every single one of them has made our bond stronger, they haven’t all been easy. We are band mates, team mates, and party animals, so we spend a lot of time together (maybe a little too much).
Time to set the stage. This was a hot afternoon in the summer of 2018. We were playing rock band in my living room, excited to choose what songs we’re going to play. We each have a guitar, so for every song one of us is the bassist and the other is the lead guitarist. The select-a-song process is normally smooth as we both alternate between the two instruments, but on “More Than Words” by Extreme it was all but easy.
I’m not sure how familiar my friend was with Extreme at that time, but I’ve like Extreme since my childhood. They’ve always been playing in my dad’s car and the speakers around my house. My parents use to take me to their concerts because they were one of my dad’s favorite bands. I’ve had my drumsticks signed by their drummer and I’ve even met all of the members. It’s safe to say I know a lot about them, so when selecting their song, it’s not uncommon to assume that I know what I’m talking about.
The conflict began when we were hovering over the song title deciding whether to play it or not. I told him we couldn’t play this song because there was no bass in it. The only way would be if he sings, but he insisted on playing with guitar and bass. We selected the song to see if it said anything about it in the instrument selection phase, but it didn’t. Instead, it allowed us to select both bass and guitar, but I knew that there really wasn’t bass in the song. Since the game didn’t address the lack of bass, I knew convincing him that we couldn’t both play would be difficult. I reassured him that we both wouldn’t be able to play with bass because there is simply no bass, but he was reluctant to believe me.
This may seem like a small controversy, but I felt disrespected so it grew into something much larger than it should have. For some context, the song didn’t come with the game. Instead, it was purchasable for a dollar on the Rock Band Store. I bought it with the intention of playing it with my dad. In this situation though, I wasn’t playing with my dad, I was playing with my best friend.
When we had selected the song, we chose to do a playlist of three songs. “More than Words” was the last one. After playing the first two, an argument began. I told him again that we couldn’t play it. We paused the game and pointlessly bickered until we didn’t even want to play anymore. It turned into him shouting at me that “you always need to be right”, and me responding with “because I am”. It went nowhere and we were discouraged to play the song. I wanted to show him so he could see that I knew what I was talking about, but we stopped playing Rock Band all together.
This unnecessary dispute could have been avoided entirely… but how? I need to dissect this conflict from both point of views. There’s no way I can solve a conflict without knowing what his intentions are. It’s clear that he thinks I have a need to be right at all times, so for our conversation to go any further I needed to mitigate that and tell him I’m doing this to avoid wasting time and to teach him about this song. He could have been much more understanding, but at the same time I could’ve been more descriptive.
There’s a fine line between proving him wrong for the sake of me being right and proving him wrong so he can learn for the future. I needed to distinguish clearly what my goal was in this situation, because without both of us knowing what we wanted we couldn’t get anything accomplished. He wanted to play this song with me, I wanted to play it with my dad, I needed to explicitly tell him that. There are many more songs to choose from that we could’ve enjoyed just as much if not more. I didn’t mention my history with this song because I figured he would understand that I’m not trying to deceive him, regardless on if I elaborated as to why I know so much about it. Since he didn’t, it is on me to convince him to understand. We are both trained musicians, so I didn’t like that he didn’t know about the song in general, but that doesn’t give me a right to not try and teach him.
He came at me aggressively and triggered me into an onslaught of verbal back and forth. I immediately felt attacked, so I acted defensively. I needed to realize that the only control I have in this situation are my actions and words, so it’s my fault it got so out of hand. I cannot dictate what he does or says, I can only control my responses. In that way I do have a hold on the conversation, I just didn’t guide it in the right direction.
Too often to I make the mistake of blaming the results of my actions on nature, God, or other people. Taking ownership and learning from my experiences will only enrich my life further. I am where I am because of all my decisions. It is not my friend’s fault that he doesn’t know that there isn’t bass in the song, it’s my fault for not teaching him. My goal was correct, I just didn’t go about achieving it in the right way. While it’s easy to say that it’s his fault that he didn’t believe me, that doesn’t get me anywhere. I don’t improve by casting the blame on him, nor does he. I must look inward to solve my own problems before I can solve anyone else’s. If he is not convinced in my first attempt, then I am not convincing him right. It’s not that he is “too stubborn”, it is that I am not using the right words. But even if he is too stubborn, then it’s my responsibility to show him that. It is my job as a friend, human, and communication major, to try and better all the people’s lives close to me that I care about.
I may be blinded to noticing my need to be right at all times. This isn’t a very good quality to have (especially to not notice), so I must dig deeper to turn my blind self into my open self. While I do like being right, I think it goes much deeper than just wanting to be right for the sake of proving other people wrong. It comes from wanting to learn. I don’t want to walk around believing something that isn’t true. That then applies to my friends because I don’t want them walking around believing something wrong. So, when these arguments happen, I just want everyone to learn a little more than they knew before. Is that not the end goal? It’s hard when people feel that they are just being attacked to be proven wrong though. How can I distinguish the purpose from being something hurtful to something beneficial to others? How can I teach someone something new if they are reluctant to open their mind? My friend tells me all the time “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. I may have been trying to tell him something that would benefit him, but I didn’t go about it the right way. If I did, the argument wouldn’t have started. I know I’m not perfect and there is a lot to learn so I want my friends to help me the same way. That’s what education is for, to learn and become a little less dumb with every passing day. I know I don’t know it all, but what I do know, I need to pass on. What is the point of knowledge if I don’t have anyone to share it with?
Jandt, F. E. (n.d.). Conflict & Communication. Sage.
Doyle, A. (n.d.). A List of Conflict Management Skills With Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/conflict-management-skills-2059687