As soon as I finished my treatise yesterday I felt like I hadn’t even addressed family confrontational issues and thought that should be the next post.

I usually take a break for a few days between posts to give myself and my readers a rest, but hey, I’ll just put this up here while it’s fresh in my mind.

I guess the topic of confrontations is uppermost in my mind because of a few conversations I’ve been having with my son.

He’s at that formative age and he keeps asking me how to be assertive, and I think the way people handle confrontations is definitely the key to being assertive.

I was having lunch with a good friend a few days ago and she said, “Oh I always avoid confrontations.”

The funny thing is I immediately thought to myself, that I don’t. And yet having written the previous blog posts, that’s not true.

More and more I am learning to avoid confrontations too.

I mean I didn’t confront my doctor when she insulted me, and I’ve learned to avoid bullies on their dung heaps too.

But I think that’s because the doctor is someone I see, what? A few times a year?

As you get older you realize that you can get along with anyone a few times a year.

And the bully on the dung heap–well I just stopped going to that particular dung heap.

But when it comes to family, learning to deal with confrontations is even more important.

Growing up I never imagined you’d have to defend yourself against family members.

It just didn’t occur to me.

But family members are people, and like Dr. Phil says, “You teach people how to treat you.”

Even the best people can start taking advantage of you, if you don’t speak up.

Within my family I am pretty much at peace.

At least I feel at peace, and that’s taken a LONG time to achieve!

And it’s only happened, ironically, when I learned to restrain myself.

I have been blessed with three son in laws from three different cultures, and in the process I have had to get along with in-laws from three different cultures.

Needless to say there have been challenges.

My philosophy in dealing with them is simple.

Give them as much of whatever they want as I possibly can.

Any request they make, if I can easily or even not so easily accommodate it, I say, “Yes.” I have even at times inconvenienced myself in order to do this.

And I do it without reservation or reluctance and definitely without expecting anything in return.

But then…when I have to say no, I do so, again without reservation or reluctance. Simply by saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

No explanations. No further apologies. Just a simple statement of fact.

The first time I did that with one of my daughters’ inlaws the expression on their face was surprise. Then it quickly dissipated. What could they say? And then later, again if they asked me for something, and I could do it, I did.

Voila. No hard feelings.

I do this with my daughters. I do this with their spouses and I do this with my in laws.

I also do this with my parents. But with my parents there’s one exception. I very seldom, if ever, say no. I find a way to accommodate their request if I possibly can.

With other people, I don’t hesitate to say no.

It’s actually pretty simple. And it’s worked quite well.

Same thing with confrontations with family members.

If you approach it with a sense of calm, it’s actually not that hard.

It takes a little bit of deconstructing some of the elaborate societal dances we do with each other, but it’s more than possible.

In Pakistan we have a term for when a guest keeps refusing food out of politeness. It’s called ‘takkalaf’.

And it’s considered the hallmark of manners.

The first time someone offers you refreshment you always have to decline. I think it’s because the person might not actually have enough of the food or drink and they might just be offering it out of politeness.

Only when they keep insisting, do you actually accept the refreshment.

The funny thing is that people in other cultures automatically do this takkalaf when they deal with each other as well.

In business situations, I’ve had editors or people say things they didn’t expect me to call them on.

If they’re late for a meeting, they’ll say, “Oh dear, I’m so late.”

And the other person is supposed to be ‘polite’ and say, “That’s okay.” Without any hint of annoyance.

But if I’m genuinely annoyed, I’ll answer. “Maybe next time you can be more prompt.”

That’s it. No more. Just a gentle rebuke. And then get down to business without holding any grudges.

The person has been informed that they’ve committed a breach in protocol, it was noticed, but that you’re willing to move on from it.

That’s a pretty basic example. In reality it doesn’t usually bother me that much if a person is late unless it’s a really long time. I know that no one has a perfect record of being on time, we all err sometimes, so that’s not a problem. It’s only if being late becomes a habit.

Basically my philosophy is not to participate in takkalaf (except when it comes to food and drink).

So if an editor shows me an illustration sample that doesn’t work, I don’t smile and nod and pretend that it does. Or if there’s back copy that’s simply inappropriate I find a gentle way to express my displeasure.

No takkalaf.

And sometimes the best way to do that is just by pausing. Taking my time to answer.

It’s not for effect. I really am formulating my response, but doing so, silently, provides a bit of squirm factor.

They’re guaging my expression (or my silence on the phone) and they can do nothing but wait for the verdict.

It’s a powerful position.

And it should be used SPARINGLY! And only when necessary! Or it will completely lose its effectiveness.

In fact most of the time that I do it, I don’t even realize I’m doing it till it’s over. It really is that genuine.

How often have I used this tactic?

About two or three times a year. That’s it.

Before I come off sounding like a complete ogre, the one thing I am most proud of is that publishers consistently tell me that I am a ‘pleasure to work with’. Those are their exact words. I turn in work promptly, I don’t make a fuss over inconsequential details and I try to be reasonable.

The great thing is that these tactics can also be used on relatives.

If a relative is imposing something on me I don’t pretend it’s okay.

Recently a relative of mine indirectly insulted my father.

This happened completely out of left field. And this was a person I liked and had even defended at times.

I just stood there numb, not believing what I had just heard.

And my first instinct was to take it slow. Don’t act. Do nothing. Think about it.

You can’t un-ring a bell.

No need to go off on someone half-cocked.

It’s ALWAYS better to err on the side of mercy.

But afterwards, the more I thought about the situation, the more I realized the dynamics and that this relative of mine had confused my past mercy towards her, for stupidity.

Now I don’t care if she thinks I’m stupid.

(Actually having people think you’re stupid can be very convenient. They underestimate you and leave you alone.)

But I did care about her insulting my father.

And the problem was she wasn’t on some obscure dung heap somewhere that I could avoid.

She was in my extended family and I was bound to run in to her on a regular basis.

In such a situation you have to change tactics. You have to confront the problem.

Dr. Phil always says too, when dealing with your children, try to avoid confrontations but darn it, if you have to have one, you better win!

I feel the same way towards family members.

The lucky thing is I have Islam on my side. Being the oldest, my father is the elder, and we are taught in Islam to respect our elders.

That was the basis of what I was going to confront her with, not whether or not she thought I was stupid. (Who the heck cares about that???)

But darn if I’m going to let any relative put down my father like that.

And knowing what I know about her background, I have more than enough amunition to put her in her place.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

Not because I particularly care that I can attack her father, but because if I don’t, people like her will think that they can run around bad-mouthing other people’s fathers without it coming back on themselves.

It’s the old ‘people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’.

What I’ve learned is that in such a case, it is actually BETTER for family dynamics to confront such a person.

It shows them their limits. It delineates the boundaries of what’s acceptable.

I will bide my time. Wait for the right opportunity.

She’s been avoiding me, but that’s okay. I can wait.

And when the time is right, I will strike her back, exactly as she struck me, with a dig at her father. No more, no less.

The secret is to restrain myself. Have a set of principles and stick to them ethically and rigidly. Do not allow myself to become the aggressor!

This might sound a bit conceited but the intention has to be to teach the person a lesson–not to destroy them–but to make them behave.

And definitely not to go beyond the injury that they gave me.

To show them, hey, you want to play that game? I can play it too, and you’re not going to like it.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

There is a lot of wisdom in that.

And who knows, by nipping this type of behaviour in the bud (because I really can’t see her insulting my father in my presence ever again) it can lead to longer lasting peace within the family as a whole.

And that’s the only reason to bother confronting her at all.