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Get a Fresh Start: Your Relationship Repair Kit

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Suppose that you have argued with a colleague and now avoid talking to this person. Your relationship is damaged, and you wonder how to repair and restore it—how to start over, make up, rebuild trust, and work through issues rather than move away from them.

Most of us experience moments of conflict daily as we fall prey to power, politics, and personalities. If the conflict involves something important to us, we tend to take a position and fight for our beliefs. While conflict can damage relationships, that damage can be repaired through simple approaches and rituals. Creating new conversational patterns can help you reframe, refocus, and redirect conversations to transform anger into alignment.

First and foremost, those in damaged relationships want to feel heard, not threatened. This requires discovery as well as listening and caring. Your purpose is to strengthen relationships by quelling fears and creating empathy, triggering mirror neurons in the other person so their brain synchs with yours. They should feel understood so you both can each open your minds to think in new ways. As you trigger oxytocin—the trust and bonding hormone—what began as a conflict can clear the way to new possibilities.

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Next, you should consider a simple exercise. You might get with three other people and draw a circle in the center of a piece of paper, and write “success.” You can then draw 12 spokes around the circle and write one word on each spoke that represents success to you. From this you each can delve into your individual perspectives to share and compare your different word meanings and perceptions. You will discover that you each have different ideas about success. One may view team success as a lack of conflict and another as the ability to share different ideas, and a third might view it using only a financial measure.

If there’s no time for a formal exercise, you might simply ask the other person with whom you disagree what success looks like for a particular project or initiative. The answer to this question might be the first step to understanding the results the other person is trying to achieve and how they might differ from what you had in mind. The question can help provide common ground as you both work together to understand each other’s perspectives and move toward a goal.  

Creating new conversational rituals can repair relationships because when you look inside someone else’s meanings of words, you see how conflicts often come from the way we frame or define the words we use. The exercise reminds us to practice living in discovery and gives us the freedom to move beyond a disagreement that may or may not even exist. Furthermore, when we graphically map success together, we can feel an organic and chemical change taking place, that turns foes into friends and transforms “my ideas” into “our ideas.” This dramatic shift moves us from "I" to "we"—a neurochemical shift at the heart of Conversational Intelligence that enables bonding and collaboration.

Power, politics, and personalities are part of being human. We are, by nature, social beings who function better inside a group. We want to be included, appreciated, valued, recognized and loved. By enhancing the quality of the engagement at each level, you will have more meaningful conversations that restore relationships, reduce conflict and move into co-creative interactions that achieve desired outcomes. 

Judith E. Glaser

Written By

Judith E. Glaser's latest book is best-seller "Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results." She is Chief Executive Officer of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of WE Institute. Her clients range from IBM and Bank of America to American Express and Target.