There are two things we know about power and relationships: Power is the ability to influence others. Power is relational and relationships are messy. We inevitably hurt each other.
Good intentions are necessary, but not enough to ensure that we use our power well. Our impact is often different from our intentions. We may be surprised at the cultural differences, the different perspectives of the world and the different values. We make mistakes and can (often accidentally) abuse power. Most abuse of power is done by people who have great power because of their roles and privileges, good intentions, lack of awareness of their influence on others, and limited understanding of the dynamics of power.
There are three main reasons why many conflicts escalate and do not perform well. We can avoid conflict because it is often associated with loss, pain and even trauma. We can respond defensively to misunderstandings, wounds and feedback. And because we often do not intend to cause harm, it can be difficult to recognize or even see when we are responsible for wounds or conflicts.
Here's the good news: Most relationship difficulties can be resolved quickly and the relationship can be repaired and even strengthened. When hurt or misunderstood, most people need one or more of the following. Here's an example: A teacher, trying to promote development and learning, gave the student some questionable feedback about his presentation. Later, the student came to the teacher confused and hurt by what they had said.
We can avoid conflict because it is often associated with loss, pain and even trauma. We can respond defensively to misunderstandings, wounds and feedback.
5 steps to repair any relationship
It is important to recognize pain, discomfort or confusion. "It seemed really upset by my comments. I realize my words could have been painful. Can you tell me more about what was for you?"
Someone may want to know what your intentions were without having to redistribute responsibility or validate your behavior. "I intend to give you some useful information on how you used your voice" (Please note that this is a brief description. If you use this step alone or go too deep in intent, people may experience it as an excuse.)
They want an apology. Here's a good formula: This is what I'm sorry about (specific behavior), and that's what I've learned and what I'm doing to make sure it doesn't happen again. For example, "I'm sorry for a lot of things – that I didn't ask you if it was a good time, I didn't give you a specific example and I didn't specify that it was about how you used your voice, not who you are. Next time, I'll be clearer in what I'm saying and checking first if it would be a good time. "
An effective apology is very important for healing and repairing. For an apology to land well, it must be specific behavior and include personal responsibility. Here are some apologies for not doing the job:
- "Sorry." No behavior is named in this apology.
- "I'm sorry you injured." This apology assumes no responsibility.
- "I was very busy and I didn't want to hurt you." This apology assumes no responsibility and neglects any action to repair it.
- "What is your role in this?" This apology shifts responsibility to the other person.
- "I was maybe a little incompetent." This apology is not taken seriously.
- "I was under a lot of stress and I felt bad at the time." This apology is defensive.
As you repair a relationship with someone, you may want to find out what you have learned. People can be very generous when they realize that their pain has contributed to learning and development. "I've learned more about what kind of feedback works for you. I'll ask you in the future if it's good and take the time to listen to your answers and clear up misunderstandings."
When a relationship is broken, an invitation to repair is important and welcome. Although a person may bring your hopes forward to you, it can also convey a great deal of care when you start asking what would work best for them. "Is there anything I can do to help restore that relationship?"
try this: Think of someone, a friend, or someone at work with whom there was an unsolved relational difficulty. (Start with a relatively low relationship and situation.) Try these steps and see if you can work out and repair. After the repair is done, ask the other person for feedback on what you said or offered, which was helpful in understanding and resolving it.
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