I don’t know about you but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced a stand-off that’s gone on a little too long. What starts out as a brief cooling off period turns into what feels like a permanent restraining order handed down by the Court of Preposterous Solutions. The cold air rushes in, sides are chosen, and you both spend a lot of energy letting others know just how little you’re thinking about the other person and the situation. But, with so much time, space, and emotions piling up, the task of making the first move can feel overwhelming. You may be uncertain about how to make sure your point of view is heard without coming across as petty or aggressive; and maybe you’re more than a little nervous about what the other person will throw your way. Rather than letting your uncertainty hold you back, consider these tips.
Be ready to be turned down: Just because the timing is right for you it doesn’t mean that the other person is going to want to talk or make nice. Choose language carefully so you can craft a message that fully expresses your desire for the two of you to discuss what’s happened and your willingness to find a solution that works for both of you. Simply saying, “I think we should put this behind us” may be what you’re feeling but the other person could interpret that to mean, “Your feelings are unimportant in this and I’ve made a decision to ignore them.” Not good. If you get turned down, be sure to let the other person know that you’re leaving the door open for a conversation when she’s ready.
Be ready to admit your part: Approaching the other person with an admission of what you could have handled better is a great way to deflate a stand-off and create the space for him to do the same. He will likely be wary of your intentions so make sure you use “I” statements such as, “I felt hurt about the things that were told to Susan” rather than, “You really messed things up when you told Susan those things.” Be genuine and leave the excuses (you may call them explanations) for later. Offer a full apology that includes a commitment that you won’t repeat your actions.
Be open to considering the other person’s perspective: You likely have a lot of points you’d like to make. Perhaps you’ve even jotted down a few notes or created a list of items you’d like to talk about. Hold that thought. Start any conversation with a sincere invitation for the other person to tell you, from her perspective, what happened and how it impacted her. When she’s talking, consider what she’s sharing (not just listen for an opening so you can jump in) and let her talk as long as she’d like before you ask questions or explore further.
Be clear about what you’d like to see happen: So, now what? If you don’t have a master plan to hold hands and walk off into the sunset, at a minimum you might suggest that the two of you can be cordial or have the capacity to be in the same room without making others uncomfortable. Do a little thinking beforehand about what “putting it behind you” looks like to you and ask if the other person is willing to hear your description. You may want to get back to being friends but be open to something less than that until trust is rebuilt. Remember, you’ve had time to consider the full conversation so let the other person get up to speed and don’t try to rush things.
Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies. She spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing where she realized resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success. Through creative solutions to common conflicts she was able to bring various entities together, both internally and externally, for the betterment of projects and a productive working environment.
Prior to retiring from Microsoft in 1999 she developed the “America at Work” video series, a six-part program featuring small businesses employing technology in attention-grabbing ways. “America at Work” aired on the USA Network and received the Silver Screen Award from the International Film and Video Festival for outstanding creativity. Using discerning negotiation, mediation, and problem-solving skills, she successfully worked with others to co-create “How-to Guides”, “Seminar in a Box”, and even one of the first on-line Guerrilla Marketing books.
Since her retirement, Ms. Scott has gone on to earn a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a concentration in American Studies from the University of Washington. She completed an extensive practicum with the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties where she has mediated numerous cases, helping parties resolve conflict in workplace, family, and other disputes. Her private mediation practice has handled cases ranging from assisting business partners in ending their relationship to creating a new working environment within a law firm. Ms. Scott is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and spends a majority of her time advocating embracing peace in a volatile world.
Her book, Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies, can be found in bookstores, on www.amazon.com, www.dummies.com, or any number of on-line bookseller sites.