All too often people find themselves in situations where miscommunication, upon miscommunication, has compounded into becoming an impossibly difficult barrier to overcome. Sometimes offensive actions worsen the situation because people who are angry often say and do things that represent their emotion at the time, rather than how they truly feel. This is something that has happened to me, and I believe that it happens with many other people as well. Because of this, and going through it more than once, I got to thinking. I wanted to know if there was a way that would ultimately provide a workable method to overcome these situations, if one should come up again (perhaps I should say “when” one comes up again). Below is the strategy I came up with. Many of these things are common practice and shouldn’t be new to you. However, the order in which they’re said and how they’re said is very important. Let me know what you think.
When conflicts arise today, the first instinct is to avoid the person in question. Gen Y is terrible at confronting people about their differences. If anything they might text them, or try and talk to them online in some way. Options like texting, internet, or over the phone might work in some situations where the infraction is relatively minor. For example, if you are apologizing for not doing something you said you would’ve, or maybe slightly embarrassing someone around your friends. This does depend of course, greatly on other circumstances and the people involved. Talking to people when trying to work out issues, if at all possible, should always be used, however. The reason for this is that you can gauge their reactions, expressions, and tone of voice easily. You want the personal touches to be there if you’re to be considered genuine in what you say.
1. Be honest with yourself and admit your mistakes.
Something went wrong somewhere, so try and think back to the very first sign that there was a problem. What were you saying or doing when you realized there was a problem? Obviously if you know specifically you did something wrong then you can go straight to preparing your apology. Perhaps it was something that you didn’t think would hurt or offend them. Maybe it was a joke misinterpreted. Was it a situation you put them in? Did you forget something important? It could be an ongoing thing that has been building up over time. For example poking fun at something they do and teasing them. Some people will become irritated if this behavior persists for longer than a single occurrence or two. Have you changed the way you act around them? May be they aren’t even angry with you but are upset because they think something isn’t right between the two of you. If you know where you messed up, figure out how you want to apologize. If you don’t know, skip step 1 and go onto step two. After you complete step two start by saying something like, “I feel like something’s up, are you upset?”.
2. Tell them the things that they have done right and that you like.
This is your chance to do two things: a) reinforce things which they do towards you that are positive, b) start talking about the issues without accusing them of anything or starting a confrontation. No one expects to be made to feel good about something they are doing when they either know why the other person is angry with them or they think that they did something wrong. This part is important and doesn’t mean you’re going to compliment them on physical attributes, but rather you might say things like: You’ve always made me happy, I’m the happiest when I’m with you, I love how you’re always here for me to count on, etc. Then you can lead into saying how something’s gone awry. “You always make me happy, and that’s something I think I’ve taken for granted, I want you to know how much I care about you. Lately I’ve felt like we’ve drifted apart and that’s been making me upset. I want to make things better between us.” Then lead into step 3.
3. Say how their actions have (are) making you feel. Do NOT accuse. Do NOT tell them what they should’ve done.
Take this part as an opportunity to explain what’s upsetting you. Don’t blame them for anything yet! Explain in detail, occurrences, events, times in general, that a particular thing they’ve done has upset you. You need to be clear, concise, and get directly to the point. This entire thing will lose its effect if you simply throw out catch all statements like, “You’re annoying when you get home from work” or “Sometimes you really piss me off”. The correct things to say might be, respectively, “Recently when you’ve come home from work I feel like I don’t get to talk to you about my day, and the things going on in my life. I feel like since you aren’t usually happy with how work has gone, sometimes some of that overshadows time for the two of us”. Notice never once did I say anything the other person could object to. No accusations such as, “You take everything out on me”, “You don’t care about what I have to say”.
4. Ask them how they feel about the situation, leave it open ended. “I’ve told you how I feel, I’d like to hear how you feel because that’s important to me.”
Up until now, if you’ve done this process correctly, no voices should’ve been raised, and they are probably already being receptive to what you’re saying. You’ve talked enough however, and now is the time to become an active listener. That means you listen. Did I say you talk? NO. Listen to what they have to say and do not interrupt them until they get it all out. If you interrupt them they may not get to something they’ve had on their mind. While this period should be a calm conversation, let them take the lead unless they become unforthcoming with their feelings. Even then, gently try to get them to open up. There could be a problem bigger than you could imagine, it may not even have to do with you, but it could be having an affect on their emotions and causing them to act the way they do. Never assume something until you know what’s going on. Obviously there are situations where you can’t be the nice guy any longer, eg. cheating, lying, breaking up is inevitable, change of feelings, they are clearly mistaken in their thinking. Discern these at your own discretion.
Hopefully their response will lead towards fixing things up. They will be more likely to admit where they are wrong because you already did three things; admitted you did something wrong (even if it’s only little!), reinforced the good between the two of you, making them feel more confident about your relationship, and showed concern for their feelings.