Conflict and Interpersonal Communication: Repairing a Relationship Once It Has “Gone Wrong”
by Laurie Wilhelm
It doesn’t matter if this strained relationship is personal or professional, if some attention and effort are made by both parties you may be able to get the relationship back on track and, hopefully, make it stronger than it was before. Here are some ideas to get it going:
Make a Conscious Decision to Improve the Relationship
Recognize that the relationship has taken a turn for the worse and determine whether or not you are ready and willing to make it better. You have to commit to it because there’s going to be some effort involved and it’s easy to avoid the effort when it’s not backed by a solid commitment.
Take Responsibility for the Relationship
While the responsibility of the relationship isn’t solely yours, recognize what you’re responsible for in the breakdown of the relationship and admit it. You can only repair what you admit to and by doing so you’ll know better what to change. Then take 100% responsibility for your role in making it a good relationship again.
Talk About It – Say What You’re Thinking
Approaching the other person to discuss the relationship can be intimidating. What if they think you’re being ridiculous? What if they don’t want to reciprocate? Will you look stupid? This can be a big step but someone’s got to take it if you want the relationship to improve. Take a deep breath and know that no matter how it’s received, you’ll always come out alive.
Instead of beginning the conversation with a reference to the conflict that created the rift, begin by talking about the relationship itself – how you used to get along so well, how much you enjoyed the friendship (or whatever kind of relationship it was) and that you appreciate them. If your goal is to repair the relationship, talk about that and not about what made it break down. Not that the problem shouldn’t be discussed eventually, but lay down a foundation and an understanding of your intent to mend the relationship so you have a stronger starting point than rehashing the original disagreement.
Once you’ve communicated what you intend to do, listen. Let the other person respond to what you’ve just said and give them time to express themselves without interruption.
Also, listen without judgment. They may say something that you find a bit insensitive but don’t judge what they said. Just let them speak. Keep in mind that you went to them knowing that you wanted to work on the relationship and they may have been taken off guard. Give them time to get their thoughts together, even if that means there will be some uncomfortable silence.
Make an Effort and Do What You Say
If you’re both in agreement to mend the relationship, the work begins. Even though the word “work” sounds daunting, remember that in any relationship the rewards for “working on it” far outweigh any effort required. Most of the time, the work doesn’t even feel like work. It’s attention, compassion, respect – all the good stuff that relationships are made of.
Even if the other person isn’t so keen on improving it but you still want to, give it a try within the scope of your ability (while being respectful of the other person’s apprehension). You can’t force them to better the relationship, but you can act in ways that may tempt them to want to improve it.
Repairing a relationship rarely happens quickly. It takes time to build up trust, understanding, and loyalty – especially if it’s been broken. If you’re in the process of working on and building social skills, remember that you have to give hurt relationships time to develop and heal. If it takes a year to fix it, that’s fine. At least it means that after a year, you’ll have your relationship back. Otherwise, a year will pass and the relationship will still be strained.