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When Someone Says ‘We Need to Talk’

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“We need to talk.”

What do you think of when you hear those words?

I’ve been realizing over the last several months that when I hear something like this, I immediately assume the worst. I worry, sometimes for days, that either a) I’m in trouble or b) someone close to me is in trouble. Usually, it’s the fear that I’m in trouble.

Why? Probably because I have a somewhat neurotic personality and have experience, unfortunately, with unhealthy workplaces led by unpredictable supervisors. Sometimes, the supervisor would call me into his office to praise my job performance, other times to threaten my job security. The praise and the threats may have happened 50/50. I’m not sure.

As I learned in a psychology class once, there’s this thing called the negativity bias that makes negative experiences impact us more than neutral or positive experiences. For example, if my supervisor criticized me fives times a week (true story), he might need to affirm me, say, 10 times a week in order for me to come away with an unbiased perception of our interactions. I don’t think that’s asking too much. It’s what we call “constructive criticism” or maybe “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). My supervisor didn’t seem to go that route.

So, I became scared of his office. Scared of the desk phone that so often summoned me into his office. Scared, sometimes, of just waking up in the morning and driving into work. Long after shaking off that situation with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” playing as I drove away  (no joke), it seems I’m scared of someone saying “we need to talk.”

Here’s the thing: sometimes we just need to talk.

A few days ago, someone in a supervisor position suggested we go to lunch. I swear, the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. Lunch time came around, we ordered salads, and after several minutes of small talk and sipping sweet teas, I asked her, “So, did you want to discuss something in particular?”

“No,” she said with the simplest smile. “I just thought we hadn’t touched base in a while, just the two of us.”

I sat my fork down and breathed in deep. (Note to self: Do this more often.)

Hours of anxiety released like a deflating balloon.

Suddenly, the small talk seemed sufficient rather than suspenseful, as if maybe we’re meant to just be together rather than be together until some ticking time bomb goes off. Suddenly, I wasn’t so scared. I was just there, fully, freely there. I cared more genuinely about her toddler’s antics and approaching anniversary. I could accept she cared quite genuinely about my roommates and writing. We need to talk. We really do. I’m resolved to redeem that phrase.

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Originally published: July 28, 2016
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