Episode 60: March 31, 2011
by Lisa B. Marshall
Today’s article is a response to an email that I got from a high school student. My answer will give you the tools and tips you need to work with others through a conflict and rebuild the relationship once the conflict has been resolved.
I'm trying to avoid an awkward situation and I hope you can help. I'm starting my junior year of high school and I'm an officer of my school's Key Club. Our annual meeting is coming up and I'm worried.
A few months ago, I parted ways with my two best friends. They were really treating me badly so it was necessary. I can't say that I really regret it, but it was a pretty awful "break-up", if you will.
They are also club officers so I will be seeing them at this meeting and at all of our meetings over the next two years. I'm getting anxious about being thrust into a social situation that includes them.
Our meetings usually include a fair bit of downtime and socialization and I'm most worried about making small talk. Do I avoid them altogether? Politely ask them how they are, knowing that they may turn around and bite my head off? Do I ask a question about something that I know they were planning to do this summer? Any advice you have would be really useful.
You are exactly right that you could choose to ignore them, choose to be polite, or you could choose to sincerely ask them about their summer. And, yes, they may react in a negative manner.
How to Work Through Conflict
Your situation is difficult; managing conflict is difficult for anyone--even for established professionals. However, although it’s not going to be easy, in a way, it's actually a good thing. Because, everyone, at some point in their career--whether in school teams, work teams, or volunteer team, at some point--gets asked to work with people with whom they don't get along or with whom they've had issues. Everyone needs to learn how to act professionally with teammates during and after conflict.
Unfortunately, for you, the experience came a bit sooner than for most, but if you can successfully learn to navigate this situation over the next two years, you going to find that you've learned an extremely valuable skill: one that will serve your well throughout your career, no matter what you choose to do.
Before I describe what to do, I want to explicitly say what not to do ... especially since you asked, "Do I avoid them all together?" The short answer is no, don't avoid them. Although that's probably the easiest thing to do, it won't help. In fact, avoiding them will likely just make the situation worse.
The key to success in this type of situation is to step up. That is, step up your social and professional skills.
Use Your Social and Professional Skills to Work Through Conflict
The key to success in this type of situation is to step up. That is step up your social and professional skills. Although you're still a teenager, you'll need to be a grown-up and demonstrate leadership. By the way, I give this same advice to adults. And, I think you are well on your way anyway, because just by writing to me and asking for assistance, you have already demonstrated a maturity beyond your years.
Next, what’s important to keep in mind is that their reaction shouldn’t be your focus--you can’t control their behavior. The only person who you can control is yourself. So, you’ll need to decide how you want to behave, regardless of the reaction of the other girls.
Be Sincerely Kind and Genuinely Positive
The best possible thing you can do is to be sincerely kind and genuinely positive. That means doing things such as saying “Hi” and smiling at them when they pass by in the hallways, talking to them at meetings about the projects or about other things that are important to them, and perhaps even Facebooking them now and again. I know, I know, easier said than done! It’s hard to be kind and positive during and after a conflict.
However, it turns out it helps if you focus on the common ground that you share. In fact, in traditional conflict resolution, the idea is to figure out what you can both agree to. In your case, focus on the fact that all of you are interested in having good Key Club meetings, and ultimately in helping your community through service.
Focus On Common Ground
Focusing on the things you have in common brings people together, which reduces tension, and can even sometimes help to rebuild trust and respect in a relationship. Because you were good friends with these girls at one time, try to think of why you became such good friends to begin with. You may be able to find a positive remnant of the old relationship that you can focus on to help you remain upbeat, positive, and kind in all of your interactions with these girls.
Discuss Underlying Concerns
Who knows, eventually you may even want work through your conflict. If so, you’ll need to have a direct discussion of your underlying concerns. It is important that during that discussion you remain open and neutral. You need to achieve what’s called a “stance of curiosity”--that means you that you ask open-ended questions to facilitate the discussion. It also means that your words, your gestures, and your tone of voice all need to be congruent and be perceived as you are really listening. The idea is to be perceived as truly wanting to the resolve the conflict.
When I was a junior in high school I also had a major conflict with my best friend. In the beginning we weren’t so good at being kind to each other, but we eventually were able to participate in activities together by focusing on the shared interest in the activity. Later when we were in college, we worked through our issues--I still remember it took several very honest and difficult discussions. However, by discussing our underlying concerns we were able to work through the conflict. Ultimately, it made us better friends. Even today, almost thirty years later, we’re still good friends. And that’s an important plus side of any conflict, if it’s handled effectively, it can make a relationship stronger.
Finally, keep in mind your “break-up” is fresh, and as with all things, time will also help to make the situation easier. Even thought it’s hard, learning how to manage difficult situations and work through conflict is a valuable skill that is worth the investment of your time. Please be sure to write me and tell me how it worked out.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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