Tired of the Trash Talking

March 19, 2024

Dear Conflict Coach—

This club I have been a part of all year is hosting elections soon and two people I really like as friends are running for the same executive board position. They have said that this will be a friendly campaign, but they are both privately trashing the other to me. They are so focused on the organization and wanting this leadership role that they’re exhausting me. Honestly, at this point, I don’t want either of them to be in the role, because it feels like that will just vindicate their mean behavior. I don’t know how I’m going to cope until the election, and I definitely don’t know how I am going to cope after it. Please help!


Tired of the Trash Talking 

Dear Tired of the Trash Talking—

Honestly, just reading your letter was exhausting, so I can absolutely imagine you’ve been going through a lot. I see three main conflicts, all of which, I think, you can address if you want to do so. I am glad you have a club and friends that are meaningful to you, and so, from my vantage point, they are probably worth some effort to fix the situation.

One issue is that you do not want your friends complaining to each other and messing up the club, especially since that seems to go against the values they articulated at the beginning of this process. Often in a competition that people really care about, they forget what they care about and why they entered the competition in the first place. Here, I think you could offer a reminder about what they said at the beginning about how they would campaign–on friendly terms. Lecturing them probably will not work (as most people do not like to be told they are messing up), but you could tell them about how you see their approach impacting the organization that you all care about.

Another issue is that they are putting you in the middle of this, and no one should be surprised that it is uncomfortable for you. Your friends may also be struggling with this whole situation too, and they are using you to process their feelings. Since this is not working for you, telling them about the impact this is having on you will likely be an effective way to alter their behavior, since they both seem to care about and trust you. Again, focusing on how this is impacting you, rather than what you think they are doing wrong, is likely to have the most impact. If you do think they need some help processing what is going on, help them find someone else to talk to–including maybe someone who is paid to listen.  

The last issue is what you do about the fact that they are both running for a role you care about and that, at this point, you do not want either of them in the role. This might also be a useful discussion to have with your org advisor. You can include this struggle you are having as you discuss the impact with each of them.

Explaining how their trash talking is hurting the club, their friendship with you, and their candidacy may help them see that they need to choose another approach to this campaign.

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