Resolving the Unresolved
By Candy Tymson
Do you have someone in your life who you dread running into?
I'm not talking about the person who you find boring, or the one who
'bends your ear' every time you meet. I'm referring to the one with whom
you have an unresolved issue.
It could be a current or former work colleague, perhaps an ex-lover,
maybe a member of your family.
I recently completed a questionnaire that listed 100 statements in
areas including money, relationships, physical environment and well-being
and invited me to confess how my life was structured. Questions like:
"I have nothing around the house or in storage that I do not
need"; "I am in relationships with people who can assist in my
career/professional development" and "I quickly correct
miscommunications and misunderstandings when they do occur". Then I
read the one that really hit home: "there is no-one whom I would
dread or feel uncomfortable 'running across' (in the street, at an airport
How would you react to such a question?
We all have them, matters that have been left unresolved because quiet
frankly we just didn't know what to say - or didn't want to be the first
to say apologise.
When things go wrong our natural tendency is to blame - usually the
other person! The only problem is blame can be a major handicap when
working towards a resolution. Whether spoken or not, the problem revolves
around the question of who is to blame. Who is wrong? Who should
apologise? By focusing on blame, we inhibit our ability to learn what
really is causing the problem, and how to fix it.
Have you considered that by blaming others, you are actually giving
them the role of 'accused person'. What do accused people do? They defend
themselves any way they can.
So, what to do about it?
In their book "Difficult Conversations", The Harvard team of
Stone, Patton & Heen, say: "At its heart, blame is about judging.
Rather than blaming others they recommend focusing on contribution, which
is about understanding."
Contribution is useful when our goal is to understand what actually
happened so that you can move forward to resolve things because generally
speaking, when things go wrong in human relationships, everyone has
contributed in some important way.
It may be that offense was taken by something that was said, maybe
someone was too sensitive, and perhaps they were only focusing on things
from their perspective and didn't consider the other person's point of
view. Previous bad experiences could have coloured the outcome of this
experience … the list goes on and on.
Some years ago I was sharing an office with a colleague and it just
wasn't working out. I felt that I was doing everything and that he was
doing nothing. I was looking after all the administration involved in
running an office while he; well he wasn't doing anything to contribute.
Well, that's how I saw it!
I just got more and more annoyed. Every time I did something, such as
collect the mail, clean up the kitchen, arranged for the photocopier to be
repaired - I just got more annoyed. One day, it all got too much and I
blasted him. He was genuinely taken aback. He had no idea that I felt I
was doing everything. And why would he? I'd never said anything!
Why do we expect people to be mind readers? We mutter about things
behind their backs, we loudly complain to our friends - but we never
actually SAY anything to the person concerned. And so what starts out as a
small annoying thing just grows and grows and before you know it you are
resentful and full of blame. And that's when the trouble really starts
because it is so easy to justify your position when you feel like that,
isn't it? Try this instead:
- Take responsibility for your own reaction
- Speak up immediately you have a problem
- Tell the person how it is for you, from your point of view
- Ask them how it is for them, from their point of view
- Talk about how you can solve things in a way that works for the both
Sounds easy in theory doesn't it and we all know that there will be
times when you can't get a solution or are unable to agree. From my
experience though, the fact that the issue is out in the open, that we are
willing to discuss it and are actively looking for an answer, makes things
so much better, and easier to deal with.
And those two simple words, "I'm sorry" can do so much to
start to mend things.
About the author: Candy Tymson is an expert on
business communication, based in Sydney, Australia. Her latest project is
a workshop, tape series and book on "Gender Games: Doing Business
with the Opposite Sex". Check her website for other resources on
effective communication at: www.tymson.com.au