When things turn sour in a friendship, you are presented with an opportunity to grow as a person. Be open to new experiences, but always remain true to your convictions and your values. There is a bit of gray area in this. The clearer you are on who you are and where you stand, the easier it will be to navigate being in the gray. Depth of clarity through personal development and exploration will guide you in if you should pursue resolution or release.
1. Sleep on it: When conflict arises, our nervous system goes into autonomic arousal. Autonomic arousal is a state our body enters when there is a perceived threat. When in this state the higher-order logical centers of the brain turn down, and the emotional centers of the brain get turned up. Making important decisions during this time is not likely to get you the results you are looking for in the long term. So, I always recommend giving yourself some time to decompress, and waiting to talk until you have calmed down.
2. Acknowledge your feelings. You can do this by talking with a counselor, brain dump journaling or writing a letter that you will never send. These strategies will help you release the good, the bad, and the ugly, without making it someone else’s problem. Do your own work, and then when you feel calm and composed, talk with your friend.
3. Be intentional with your communication with your friend. I always start with what I call “a volley up.” This is where you ask for permission to have a conversation with the other party, set up a time in advance that works for both of you and being intentional on creating a setting where you can both feel heard. When you speak with your friend, share your positive feelings with them, then express your perspective using I-feel statements, and invite them to speak. Here is an example:
“I very much value your friendship, we have walked each other through some pretty amazing adventures. There’s something I want to talk about so that I can clarify whether or not I’m writing a story in my mind, and better understand your thoughts and feelings about the matter.”
“I felt hurt when you said ______. Did I misunderstand your comment?”
4. Actively listen to their response. Look them in the eyes, make sure your body language conveys that you are listening to them and hearing them with respect. Do not interrupt, and when they have finished, summarize what you are understanding.
Here are two examples, the first is an example of an emotionally charged impulsive exchange, the second example is where the repair strategies are used:
You say: “You really embarrassed me at the team meeting when you said my proposal sounded archaic.”
Your friend responds: “It’s like walking on eggshells with you. Your idea was archaic. You wanted to use old and outdated technology.”
In this example, the blame is placed on the other person, and emotions are being escalated, resulting in attacking and furthering the negative feelings.
You say: “I felt embarrassed and hurt when you said that my proposal sounded archaic at the team meeting last week. Did I misunderstand your comment?”
Your friend responds: “I was trying to provide feedback on how some of the technology you were talking about has been updated. I meant to add to your statement by sharing some new things I had learned.”
You could further clarify by saying: “So what I hear you saying is that you were trying to be helpful by sharing new information you had learned.”
In this example, you are owning your reaction to an event, and seeking additional understanding of your friend’s intentions and motives. This approach keeps the conversation much cleaner and while you are sharing how you feel, you are also allowing your friend to recognize how she came across.
5. Be prepared for a positive or a negative outcome. Remember, this is not just about you. It’s about you and your friend.
Sometimes repair is simply not an option. This may be due to an impasse in a conflict, the other person is not willing to work on repair, or there is so much damage to the relationship that it is not worth what it would take to repair. Maybe you and your friend have grown apart, or maybe the pros for staying in the friendship do not outweigh the cons.
Regardless of why, sometimes releasing relationships is the biggest act of grace you can give yourself, and the other person.
Read this blog for how to get over releasing a relationship.