Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bring things out into the sunlight

Human relationships go sour for all sorts of reasons. They are inherently complicated. But there are some reasons for bad feelings that are avoidable. One of the most common, is the refusal of many people to bring problems out into the open.

For example, there was a friend of mine who I used to go for a drink with sometimes. We got along well, and I enjoyed our time together. Then, one day, he stopped returning my calls and emails. When I did eventually get through to him, he'd make some excuse about not being able to meet up.

It was pretty clear that something was wrong.

Finally, I called him and said I felt as if he was upset about something. I told him I wasn't sure what the problem was, but I was sure we could figure it out.

He told me that the last time we'd been out together, he'd given me $50 to go and buy him a drink. It turned out I hadn't given him the change. Then, we went to have something to eat, I'd asked him for his half of the bill, even though I already had some of his money in change.

He was right, I hadn't given him his change, and he was also right that we'd split the bill. But it wasn't because I was trying to steal from him or anything like that. I'd simply got distracted and forgotten. Of course, immediately we sorted things out and I gave him back the money I owed him.

This is a pretty typical example of what happens when people don't bring things out into the open. Somebody does something by accident and the other party takes offense. Then, things are allowed to fester.

Usually, the offended person turns the situation over-and-over in their mind. They focus intently on the transgression, and not the context it was undertaken in. They don't account for human weakness and attribute the other person's actions to evil intent.

Someone may have forgotten something, not realized it was a sensitive issue, or not had the full information. They mistakenly caused bad feelings. But instead their actions are interpreted as deliberate wrong-doing.

Thus, the issue grows and the emotions become more raw. An imbalance is introduced into the relationship, that will continue to do damage until it's resolved.

Another example happened to me at work a couple of years ago. I was part of a project team that was working closely with another team. A person on the other team (let's call her Michelle) started coming over a lot to ask me for information. She'd invite me to meetings and send me a lot of emails. My understanding was that helping her was part of my job, so I was happy to do so.

At the same time, I noticed my manager becoming more and more agitated with me. She began to treat me suspiciously and behave as if she didn't trust me. As time went by, things got worse, and the tension between us grew thick.

Finally, I asked my manager what the problem was. It turned out that Michelle was trying to get my manager fired from the project and was gathering information as ammunition to use. My manager thought I was in on all this because I'd been assisting with providing so much information.

I assured her I had no idea that was happening. I was simply trying to do my job. After that, things returned to normal.

Usually, when you find yourself in this type of situation, the best thing to do is bring things out into the sunlight for all to see. If somebody has done something to offend you, or you feel you've done something to offend them, open up. Of course, sometimes it may be worthwhile waiting for the original raw emotions to settle down a bit.

Simply say to the person: "Is there a problem? If so, whatever it is I'm sure we can sort it out."

This takes quite a lot of courage, but is worth doing. Make sure you're sensitive in your approach and not confrontational. When in the act of actually resolving the problem, make an effort to listen to the other person's point of view. Reassure them that your intentions are not what they believe them to be.

Most importantly, don't get into an argument! If they say things you're not happy about, just let them fly past you. This is not the time to butt heads. Remember, that the other person is feeling bad about the whole thing. Letting them remove the poison that's in their mind may involve saying some insensitive things. This is all part of the healing process.

Once you've gotten through a situation like this with someone, your relationship can often be closer than ever. People genuinely respect those who try to sort things out rather than letting them fester. Being such a person will strengthen many of your relationships greatly.

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