Too often we live with professional and personal relationships that are marred with conflict. We might not be able to fix them completely, but allowing them to continue is like living with a low-grade infection. It's always uncomfortable, and once in a while it flares up. Why live that way, when things could be different? Science fiction writer, David Brin once asked, "why must conversions come so late? Why do people always apologize to corpses?"
We all have relationships in our lives that could be better, but we get stuck and don't know how to have the conversations. It often means opening up a wound, handling our own shame and anger and potentially making the problem worse. So, we just don't do it. Yet, at the end of our lives, we may look at it all differently and realize we could have done more. We could have settled it. We could have found peace.
If that's the case, why not try? It's just about having the conversation, and it's not that difficult if you plan it well. Before you even ask the person to talk, take some time to answer a few questions for yourself about the situation:
1. What is the story from the other person's perspective?
2. What are you responsible for in the relationship/situation?
3. What do you need in order to move forward?
These questions can be hard questions to tackle. It is critical for you to understand both sides' needs and to be willing to be held accountable for your actions. Making amends is ultimately about understanding and in that process, relinquishing blame. The process of answering these questions may take time, and even some outside help. But getting clear on them is the majority of the work.
Once you are ready for the conversation, follow these five steps:
1. Ask for the meeting and explain your motives: If the relationship is contentious, your request to meet will most likely be met with suspicion. Your job is to take that person off the defensive. The best way to do that is to be genuine. Explain why you want to talk, and that you want to improve the relationship. If they seem reluctant, remind them there is nothing to lose. 2. Listen: Even if you already know their side of the story, hear it again. Listening is the only way to take the other person off the defensive. Start by asking them to tell their side of the story, and engage in it as much as you can. Resist the urge to argue or defend. Pretend you were a neutral third party just listening to the person and trying to understand their side.
3. Accept responsibility: Own the mistakes you made. There is almost nothing more freeing than openly admitting you were wrong. Don't try to rationalize or excuse it. Simply state it, and help the other person understand that you know you erred. You may find that this simple act changes the demeanor of the other person. They were more than likely expecting you to resist and defend.
4. Ask what they need: Ask them to identify what they need from you in order to move forward. The more specific they can be, the better. If there is nothing you can do, ask if they can forgive and start a new chapter.
5. Explain what you need: Don't focus on your side of the story unless there is something you need them to understand. Re-hashing isn't necessarily going to get you anywhere. Instead, explain what would help you move forward.
The purpose of making amends isn't to let someone else off the hook for hurting you; it's to free yourself. If the relationship matters to you in your work or personal life, it is worth making the effort. Even if it does not heed the results you wanted, you will be at peace knowing you tried.
Elisa Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.