Retrieving Your Relationships
From the Rubble
By Dr. Gary Bradt
are in a relationship that’s not working right now at work or home,
you’re hardly alone. It happens. The question is what are you going
to do about it? Some of us get lazy. Rather than roll up our sleeves
and get busy, we put on our running shoes instead. We race from one
job to another, one relationship to another, only to end up in a
similar mess each time. Others of us bury our heads in the sand, in
the vain hope that our difficulties will miraculously disappear.
Usually, it’s the relationship (and sometimes the job) that
disappears instead. In either case, we tend to rationalize our part
in it all: Well, what could I do? That’s just the way
men / women / bosses / employees / co-workers / jobs-in-general are.
what you could do: I’m going to give you five tools; five ideas
and steps on how to retrieve your ring from the rubble of broken
relationships at work and home. The ring represents the opportunity
to build better relationships. The rubble represents the hurt,
frustration and pain we all have to dig through from time to time.
These tools will help you fix your relationships, if you
apply them to yourself. Please note: You can’t fix anyone else!
If you want others to pick up these tools, then be a role model and
pick them up first.
Preventive maintenance: Treat those you know best like strangers.
Often we treat perfect strangers better than we treat the people
we live and work with everyday. Kind of crazy when you think about
it, so here’s the first tool to try: treat those you know best like
strangers. That means being polite, regularly saying please and
thank you, and perhaps biting your tongue occasionally. It means
doing the little things that can make a big difference, like
dressing nicely at home, not just at work; holding doors open;
making eye contact; smiling; and picking up after your self, instead
of complaining about those who leave the kitchen or break room a
mess. Extending common courtesies to all is akin to preventive
maintenance: it sustains relationships before they break,
thereby reducing the need for extensive (and maybe expensive)
Swallow your pride and learn how to say ‘I’m sorry.’ For some of
us, this one is hard to do. For all of us, it’s incredibly
important. Grievances, imagined or not, remain unresolved when we
can’t, or don’t, chose to express remorse for our part in helping to
create them. All manner of things may get in our way of saying we’re
sorry: ego; a need to be right; ignorance; and arrogance. In
addition, in The Five Languages of Apology, authors
Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas point out that sometimes, even
though we may think we’ve apologized, we haven’t been understood.
They teach us that we all have an apology language: some need to
hear “I’m sorry.” For others, words mean little; it’s action that
counts. We have to learn what our language of apology is, and what
language others speak, to be effective in this arena. Learning to
say ‘I’m sorry’ is a skill that can be learned: learn it.
Repeating your point won’t get you heard, but listening to theirs
will. Often, we scream at each other across the rubble that
divides us, versus working to collectively remove it. We get so
caught up in our need to justify our actions, prove others wrong,
and to dazzle with our logic that we lose track of the outcome we
are after - a stronger relationship. You already know your point of
view. Repeating it over and over (or louder and louder) is not
likely going to make others suddenly agree with you. In fact, just
the opposite is more likely: They’ll argue with you even if they
agree with what you’re saying! As Stephen Covey taught us in
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we should seek first
to understand, then to be understood. Most of us will listen if we
feel heard. So ask questions. Listen to their answers. Ask questions
to understand, not judge. Regular use of this tool will help
keep small relationship problems from escalating into bigger ones,
and help to more quickly resolve those that may already have.
Figure out who wants it more and then let go. Usually, like a
stream carving a canyon, it’s the little things that wear
relationships down over time. Whether its fights at home over a
messy household, or fussing at work about keeping the break room or
workstation tidy, these minor nuisances play a major role in
decaying goodwill over time. When there is a disagreement about how
to go about something, e.g. whether to fly or drive for vacation,
whether to visit or call the client, go with the person who has the
most energy over the issue. If it matters more to them than you, do
it their way. Stop turning pebbles into boulders. If both parties in
a relationship use this tool, it helps maintain equanimity over
time. Neither of you will feel like you have to always give in, or
play a game of tit for tat. By definition, you’ll only be letting go
of stuff that in the end does not matter as much to you as it does
to them, so what’s the difference? Let it go.
Have goals together and you’ll grow together. Relationships are
dynamic, moving, changing organisms, because people are. When we
stop growing together, that’s when we start dying together. It’s
easy to fall into relationship ruts. We assume we know everything
there is to know about someone and we stop learning, or even paying
attention, to who they are now. If they change or grow, we
don’t notice. If their skill set expands at work it’s invisible to
us. It’s like being in relationship with a picture of a person,
rather than with the person themselves. Having a purpose, a goal, a
challenge you are pursuing together, will help maintain forward
momentum in all of your relationships. Setting goals and meeting
challenges together renders rubble as incidental. Pursuing mutual
goals may even transform rubble into stepping-stones that lead to
personal growth, enhanced mutual understanding and a shared
sacrifice that may ultimately draw you closer together.
Final Word: Relationships, like all living things, need to be
nurtured and replenished over time. Stop tending your garden and the
weeds will grow; so too in your relationships. And, most
importantly, if you have a relationship that needs some work, look
in the mirror. That’s where the healing and the work need to begin.
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