How to Manage Tension In Your Relationships

rubber band flex
rubber band flex

I don’t remember why I had such a bad attitude. I don’t recall why or how I participated in the spat with my colleague, but it was there, and, knowing me, I was most likely the prime contributor.

Still, I was content to let the rift settle down and hoped it would fade away.  However, my friend was having none of that approach.

Instead, she waited a day or two, until we were in the same room, and she peeled me off for a chat.  She called me out on my behavior and made me talk through each step of our disagreement.

She listened to my version of what had happened and explained how my response came across to her. After we spoke, not only was the air clear, but our respect for each other grew.  She never let the incident cloud our friendship or our ability to do our jobs.

This incident was years ago and I think the the specifics have faded away because of the startling process.  In fact, her response to me became my model for handling disputes. (Though I still struggle with consistently implementing the model!!)

In retrospect, I see four simple, though not necessarily easy, steps:

1. Engage in the tension

Do you remember the last time you had a splinter?  If you were smart, you Googled “How to remove a splinter” and did whatever you had to do to get the intruder out.

You have to do the same thing in relationships.  When there’s a problem, most of the time it won’t fade away, it will sink in and fester.

Don’t ignore the tension -  engage and wrestle it to the ground.

I think this first step is the most difficult.

2. Listen first

Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than jumping in with guns blazing.  Leadership guru Stephen Covey said to seek to understand before being understood.

This is huge.

If you want to repair the relationship, even if THE OTHER person is primarily to blame, begin by asking questions and listening to their story.

3. Explain without blame

Engaging in a tension doesn’t mean going silent on your feelings. Rather, explain the impact of the other person’s behavior without placing blame.  I didn’t intend to hurt my colleague, and she understood that, but she had to spell out the “cause and effect” of my actions.

She left it up to me to make the connection as to whether I was in the wrong.

4. Forgive

Finally, and most powerfully, my colleague forgave me.  She refused to allow the incident to cloud her perception or treatment of me.

From this friend, I learned to keep a “short account” and do the work necessary to keep relationships healthy.

Do you actively engage in closing tensions in your relationships?  How well do you listen?   Do you play the blame game? What’s your posture toward forgiveness?