We all make mistakes from time to time that damage personal and professional relationships. Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or in the wrong way can have lasting negative impacts. Maybe you can relate to one of these situations:
- During a disagreement with a co-worker Liz yelled, “I can never count on you!” before leaving the cubicle in a huff.
- Jay broke the “no politics” rule at Thanksgiving. He and his dad both said some cutting, hurtful things to each other.
When important relationships get damaged, we need to begin repairing it sooner rather than later. Things don’t get better by waiting for the other person to apologize to you. It isn’t always easy to swallow your pride and take the first step, but with important relationships, we need to do exactly that. The five steps below can help you navigate these high-stakes conversations and begin to rebuild those relationships.
1. Manage your emotions before attempting a conversation.
It will do no good to go into a conversation still feeling intense negative emotions. Whether you are angry, hurt, or feeling something else, calm down first. When intense emotions take over, they compromise our thinking, memory, and problem solving. The first step is to take the time to calm down.
2. Determine your purpose.
Remind yourself why the relationship is important and determine the purpose of your conversation. Do you need to rebuild an effective working relationship? Do you need to rebuild a relationship with a sibling so you can work together to make decisions for aging parents? Keeping your purpose in mind will help keep you focused on what is important rather than getting sidetracked by irrelevant comments.
3. Identify your role in what happened and own it.
Identifying why you are angry with the other person is the easy part. Identifying your role is harder. Assume that you played a role and dig deep, if necessary, to identify it. Maybe you fired back defensively and said something that made things worse. Or maybe you didn’t say anything, but your hostile body language exacerbated things. In either case, you can’t blame that on the other person; you have to own your part.
Owning your part will go a long way toward rebuilding the relationship. Don’t allow yourself to believe you were just a victim and did nothing. Dig deep to find your part in it.
Once you’ve identified your role, sincerely apologize for it. Without a sincere apology, negative emotions fester and continue to erode the relationship over time. An apology goes a long way because it validates the other’s experience of wrongdoing. It then allows them to move past the negative emotion and move forward with the relationship.
The first four steps will go a long way toward having a productive conversation. Keep in mind that two people can see the same situation in two very different ways. You know your experience, but you don’t know theirs. Listen with an open mind. It is very possible that the other person experienced something you didn’t realize. In fact, once you listen with an open mind, you may find you need to apologize again.
Although you can’t undo the past, you can take steps to rebuild the relationship. Relationships are important in both our personal and work lives. Don’t allow damage to fester. Begin to rebuild relationships as soon as possible and move forward.