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We asked Janet McCredie, a relationship and divorce recovery coach at the Relationship Resolution Centre in Nepean, Ont., and Brian Strom, executive director of the Canadian Institute for Conflict Resolution, to share their go-to strategies for re-charting the course of a difficult relationship.
1. Get to the root of the problem
One of the first steps toward improving a relationship that isn't working (whether it's with a family member, coworker or friend) is digging deeper into what is truly causing the ongoing conflict.
"Difficult relationships are often the result of ongoing miscommunication," explains McCredie. "Sometimes we only focus on the other person's words or behaviours, rather than figuring out the 'why.' So ask yourself what specifically they are doing that is a personal problem for you."
Stop and ask yourself why your friend's behaviour is bothering you or why you're feeling so frustrated and unhappy in the office. "This will help you get to the real root," says McCredie.
2. Speak up
If your boss presents your report to the board without giving you proper credit, speak up for yourself rather than stewing in silence, says McCredie. Ask your boss clearly and calmly, in a non-threatening way why you weren't given credit for the report. Give her the chance to respond rather than becoming resentful, she advises. If there is a good reason, it will restore the goodwill between you, and if it was an oversight, she will perhaps be more considerate the next time.
3. Listen and repeat
If you're caught in a difficult relationship with a friend or coworker, it's probably not the first time you are hearing something hurtful. Try repeating back to that person what you understand him to be saying. Ask if you are interpreting his words correctly, and give him the chance to clarify his intention.
"If you find yourself in the midst of a tense exchange, try clarifying what the other person is saying to you by repeating it back to them," advises Strom. Hearing their words repeated might allow them to better understand how those words might be construed by you as negative or mean, he explains.
Page 1 of 2 -- Discover three more great ways to make a difficult relationship work in your favour on page 2.
4. Check your baggage
Before you react to someone, think hard about whether you might be reading too much into the situation. "The communication between two people is oftentimes heavily influenced by each of their own experiences and the emotional baggage they are carrying," says Strom. "For example, if your boss asks why a project wasn't finished yesterday you may interpret that as a negative message and that your boss is questioning your competence. But he or she may have actually only intended to figure out if you're overwhelmed and may need help," he explains.
"People react in many ways when they feel that they have been insulted, ignored or otherwise slighted," says McCredie. "Before you react, take a breath, step back and try not to get sucked into automatic argument patterns."
5. Collaborate creatively
If your retired neighbour with the green thumb is constantly offering up unsubtle hints about your neglected peonies and proliferation of dandelions find a way to make things easier for the both of you rather than getting angry. For example, you may want to offer your garden-loving neighbour an all-access pass to your flower beds.
"Consider solutions that allow both parties to meet their own priorities by focusing on collaboration versus winning an argument. Be open to creative solutions," says Strom.
6. Call in a third party
At a certain point you may feel the need to bring in a third person to help heal the relationship. "Someone neutral can help you both better understand the nature of the difficulties you're experiencing," explains McCredie. "A professional such as a therapist or relationship coach can also suggest alternate communication tools you may not have considered."
Strom sees conflict as a spectrum: "If you can keep the issue from escalating and resolve the difficulties among yourselves, great. If the issues have become so hot-button that you can't have a rational discussion, then you may want a third party's involvement," he advises. "In these instances, a third party helps stimulate useful, constructive conversation. Mediators don't make any decisions for you, but they create a structure where you can have a conversation that feels safe and productive."
As lovely as it would be to get along with everyone, everywhere, all of the time, it's difficult to do in reality. These strategies will set you on the right course for flipping those difficult professional and personal relationships in your favour.
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