The Friend Break-Up

friend breakupEnding a friendship certainly qualifies as a difficult conversation. The problem is:  rarely does anyone actually have a conversation to end a friendship. It’s not like a “break-up” between couples. Most friendship ending are one-sided. Phone calls go unanswered. Emails aren’t returned. Invites vanish. The friend is left to figure it out on their own.

There’s no conversation. No explanation. Nothing. The terminator simply cuts the cord of the relationship without expressing what was bothering them. They never express their true feelings and their friend never receives an explanation of what changed, what went wrong.

Funny that people who liked and enjoyed each other so much just go their separate ways without any farewell. No well wishes. It’s just OVER.

Known for hitting on common life experiences, Seinfeld devoted an entire episode to the friend breakup.   Speaking of a friend from youth, Jerry turns to George and says, “What can I do breakup with him? Tell him we aren’t right for each other? At least with a woman there’s a precedent…you end it.  As a guy, I don’t know how I can break up with another guy…there is nothing I can do. I’ll have to wait for one of us to die.”

Just because no protocol for ending a friendship exists, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t step into that difficult conversation and speak the truth.

How?  By choosing the simplest, truest few lines to tell a friend face to face,or at least by phone, how we feel.

It could sound like this,

You know, Sally, we’ve been drifting apart for awhile and though I have thoroughly enjoyed our friendship, for me, it would be better to just wish each other well and move on.” 

End Friendship

Or if the relationship was a struggle, it might sound like,

“After the misunderstanding we had recently, it would be better for me let go of our relationship. I was much too hurt by what happened to continue. I realize we both played a part in the misunderstanding; I’m just not willing to give it more time. I hope you understand.”

Although delivering these messages is definitely a stretch, and not comfortable, don’t we owe our one-time-friends the decency of an explanation? At the very least, a short truthful conversation sure beats the current practice of leaving things unsaid.

What’s your experience been with ending friendships? Did you speak up? Have you been left wondering? Tell me what you think.

And remember this, should you choose to part ways in the future, please tell me, as best you can, the reason you moved on. I promise to do the same.

The Way to Say It Tips: Apologizing with Grace

A great apology takes more than these two words.

A great apology takes more than these two words.

Ok, let’s get real. Sometimes we all make some really lame apologies.  Sometimes we don’t mean the words we say but just spout them out to get things over with. On occasions we feel forced to apologize or do so in anger. And then there are the times we are incredibly sneaky, making masked apologies hoping the other person would get the hint. They were at fault, not us.

Other times we actually feel genuinely sorry but just can’t find the right words. We don’t know the way to say it. Whatever the scenario, it’s important to establish two things. First, that we truly feel remorse for our actions and second, that we can find the right words and tone to communicate that. Our intentions must be in the right place. A forced apology or a masked one will never create resolution.

Elements to Resolve the Conflict

Here’s what is needed to resolve the conflict, keep the peace and create a successful apology:  

  1. Sincere feelings of apology
  2. A willingness to admit our mistakes or contributions to the mess
  3. The ability to  seek clarity and resolution rather than blame
  4. An understanding (and acceptance) that the other person may need some time to meet us in a civil, calm discussion

Once we’re really in the head space described above, we’re ready to apologize.

Useful Expressions of Apology

Here are some of  The Way to Say It expressions of apology that will help you work through these situations:

  • “I’m sorry you feel that way. Here is what I intended.”
  • “My apologies. How can I help make this better for you?”
  • “I apologize for creating this situation. Let’s see what we can do together to resolve it.”
  • “I’m sorry for my part in this. Tell me what you need to move forward.”
  • “This did not turn out as I hoped. Let me share with you what I was hoping to accomplish. I’m sorry for my actions.”
  • “I’m so sorry. I had no idea this would be the result created by my actions. Here is what I had hoped would happen.”
  • “Although I think we both played a part in this mess, I’m very sorry for  _______. That was wrong of me and I hope you will forgive me.”

These phrases–or some that sound similar–will not fuel the fire of conflict. Instead each expression, if  delivered without tone, will diffuse the tension and conflict in the air. It will allow both parties to regroup and create resolution. The goal is to restore relationship and connection. That doesn’t mean in every situation both parties will be at peace and at ease immediately, but using wording like these will begin the process and create an atmosphere of cooperation.

Try on these phrases. Test them out in minor misunderstandings first. Use them face-to-face or on the phone. Be sure to tweak them to fit your conversational style.  And as always, share with me those expressions that helped you apologize with grace .

 

 

Danger: Difficult Conversations and Email Don’t Mix

Send Button for EmailsI LOVE email. I am a fast typist (thanks to long ago secretarial school.) I love to write. And I like immediacy. Email ticks all the boxes.

BUT,  EMAIL IS NOT RIGHT FOR EVERY COMMUNICATION.

Many people hide behind email, rather than bravely having conversations they need to have. They become The Wizard of Oz hiding behind the curtain. Only difference is their curtain is email.

If the communication you need to deliver, makes you feel like running the other direction, email is not the way to handle it.

If the topic you need to talk about is emotionally charged, like a break up, or a performance issue at work, email is not the right choice.

If the subject matter is touchy, involves parties who are already upset and taking sides, email is not going to clear the air.

If you know (and I know you do) when your email is likely to cause hurt feelings, disappointment, possible misunderstandings and yes, drama, email is not the solution to minimize all of the above.

When we chicken out and use email to handle situations like this, we can’t really wonder why things go sideways. Why drama escalates. Why nothing is resolved. It’s obvious.

Too much is missing and/or open to interpretation with email in a tough conversation. And it’s what’s missing that creates the problems. Like tone of voice. Like the ability to stop and redirect the conversation. Or the ability to clarify issues that are being misinterpreted….immediately! Once the reaction is there, once the feelings are hurt, it’s much harder to backtrack and resolve.

With email the entire conversation is delivered like a one-sided monologue. The reader has no opportunity to ask for clarification, to interpret facial expressions and tone, to stop a communication that is headed down the wrong path.

When you speak, whether face to face or by phone, at each moment you have the chance to shift gears, explain, listen, redirect, and ask questions and often, salvage a conversation that was beginning to go south.

ALL of that is missing when you put your thoughts in an email. You quickly bang out the email, throw out your thoughts, often with little or no editing. Then before you can foresee possible issues, or just think ahead a moment, it’s’ too late. The email is gone.

How many times have we all wished there was a “recall” button on personal emails?

Instead of going down this path, a better solution is learning and committing to NOT using email for any conversation that is touchy, drama-filled, sensitive, emotional, potentially upsetting or hurtful, easily open to interpretation, or complicated.

What recent email of yours turned into an issue that could have been avoided?  Suppose instead of emailing, you had picked up the old-fashioned telephone instead? Imagine the different possible outcomes with an authentic conversation?

Remember, email is great but it’s not right for every situation. Tune into your intuition. If you have the slightest inkling it could get sticky, DON’T send your email. Have a conversation instead. THAT’S the way to say it!

For some specifics on when and when not to email, check out this article.

Four Words Guaranteed to Send Men Running

This conversation starter doesn't create the mood we intend.

This conversation starter doesn’t create the mood we intend.

Ladies, it’s true. We grew up hearing adult women say to their men, “We need to talk,” but I’m here to say don’t do it! Popular belief was that these words would be a good introduction to talk through an issue, handle a concern, or establish more connection.

No matter how many times you’ve heard this phrase, or how easy it would be to say, or that some people actually recommend saying, “We need to talk,” to initiate a tough conversation, I’m saying ABSOLUTELY NOT! Not today, not in the future, not ever. No. No. No.

Unequivocally, saying “We need to talk” will send men running—the other direction.

If your mind keeps telling you to say these words, promise me you won’t let them across your lips to be spoken out loud.

I get that you might not believe me. And I will admit, I once used them, too. But over time, I learned these words inspire dread in the hearts of men of all ages. These words are a sounding alarm.

And here’s what that alarm signifies for men:                     We-need-to-talk

  • Be on guard. Bad news is on the way
  • Get ready for tears and emotions
  • This is not going to be pretty
  • You’re going to hear what you did wrong or didn’t do at all
  • This conversation will definitely last longer than you hope
  • You probably will have to talk about things you’d prefer not to discuss

A study at the University of Missouri found that boys have different feelings about time spent discussing problems than girls do. For boys “talking about problems makes them feel “weird” and feels like they are “wasting time.” It should come as no surprise this belief carries over into adulthood for guys.

shutdown

Constructive conversation has no chance now.

According to Good Men Know the Real Meaning of We Need to Talk  

“…when we hear those dreaded words, we “shut down” because we feel like the student in the class who hears his teacher say, “I need to see you after class.” When the teacher says that, we KNOW we are in trouble. And when you say, “We need to talk,” we know there is an issue you want to scold us about.

Rather than fall back on this familiar, but oh-so-wrong way to start a conversation with a man, try these guidelines instead:

  • If your intention is not resolution and understanding, don’t begin the talk
  • Don’t initiate “the conversation” if you aren’t ready to talk right then!
  • Check any “tone and attitude” at the door, or wait till you are attitude-free
  • Remember, serious, meaningful conversation doesn’t require drama and heaviness
  • Cut what you want to say in half
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Commit to yourself that you will identify some part of the issue as yours and own it…
  • Be prepared to move on when the conversation is done

When you’re set with all of the above, select a more neutral way to start your conversation than saying “WE NEED TO TALK!”

Instead, casually say things like:

  •     “Let’s talk about this”
  •     “Let’s talk this through real quick”
  •     “What are your thoughts on this?”
  •     “Really briefly, I want you to know how I feel about….,
  •     “Can you clarify something for me?
  •     “Unlike how I’ve been in the past, I just want to discuss this briefly.”
  •     “Real quick…I  think ___________. What about you?”

 

For a really powerful change, DON’T use an opener at all. Just say what you need to say. No long detailed, set-the-stage windup, no long dramatic lead in, just talk. Say it as succinctly, with as few sentences as possible and the least amount of detail to say what NEEDS to be said, getting right to the point. It’s called “boy talk.” If you get no response and the conversation calls for one, ask what his reaction is. Otherwise, say what needs to be said. Thank him for listening and be done.

Instead of having the conversation or your relationship blow up, you’ll blow your man’s mind because you were able to talk without making it into a movie melodrama or mini-series.

Stay tuned for more about “boy talk” and what that looks like. And as always, through a post or private message, let me know what you experience with this approach.

And, repeat after me, “I promise to never initiate a conversation with a man in my life with the words WE NEED TO TALK.”

Right Words to Start Tough Conversations

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

Getting started is not as hard as you think. Try these phrases.

The most difficult thing about difficult conversations is the first step. Opening your mouth to get the right words out. Starting off on the right foot. Being the one to broach whatever subject it is that’s uncomfortable.

But have you ever noticed —-once you start, things immediately get easier? Tension breaks.

With the first step behind us, the dread dissipates.  Just like public speaking, or a first time surfing, or trying some new challenge, the majority of anxiety arises in THINKING about it, not in the actual doing of it! Once we make that first move, utter those first words, something shifts. Suddenly things start to settle.

We can use that fact and some well worded introductions to help us get over the hump of our first step in a challenging conversation.  First, check out last week’s blog post, Six Steps to Initiating Difficult Conversations.

For conversation starters, try wording like this:

 “I’m angry about what happened yesterday.  I want to share my feelings and hear your perspective so we can clear the air.”

 “I think I made a mess of things in our recent meeting and I’m sorry.  I’d like to talk about it with you and see if we can’t regroup and get back on track.”

 “I’m very uncomfortable with some comments you made about the department. I’m hoping you can help me see things in a different light. Let’s talk this through.”

 “Let me tell you how things appeared to me when you said you weren’t interested in working with the new employee. Then I’d like to hear what your thoughts and reservations are.”

 “It’s important to me that we retain our good working relationship, so I want to share my concerns about our work project. I’m not happy with the way you have communicated with me on this, and I think we can do better. Let me tell you my issues and then let’s talk about what is making it difficult from your end.”

 “For me, it’s unacceptable to repeatedly not get a response from your office when I leave a phone message. I value our business relationship and I want a better level of service so we can continue working together.”  

 

To Learn Their Point of View, Ask Curious Questions

After delivering your succinct, clear, direct message, turn the tables. Keep the conversation going and on track.  Ask curious questions to give your listener the opportunity to share their thinking, feelings and assumptions. The goal is to understand both sides of the issue, not just yours.

Some phrases that will help you accomplish this sound like this:

“Can you explain your thought process so I understand where you are coming from?

 “Can you help me understand how you see things here?

 “Can you tell me what you were trying to accomplish so I understand your thinking?”

 Once you’ve asked the question, LISTEN. Yup, stop talking. Don’t defend. Simply listen.  It’s critical to give that respect and listen if your true intent is understanding and resolution. When they are done, there is time to clarify any issues that arise.

If You Mess Up

Difficult conversations are like life. Rarely are things perfect. Stepping into challenging conversations is honest, brave and forthright, AND sometimes messy. If you bumble something you say in one of these talks, do what you would do when writing. Edit!

Say something like,

 “What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me try that again. I want to get closer to what I’m trying to convey.”

 Wow, that was unclear. Let me try to reword that to make it more clear.”

 “Let me backtrack for a moment. What I mean is this…..”

And then try again. Simply start over with what you wanted to say, making an attempt to be more succinct and more clear. There is no rule in communications that says you can’t edit and reword what you say when it comes out less than perfectly.  In fact, the simple act of doing that often opens up communication. By being less than perfect, by being real, others often relax and we reach a better connection.

 

Make The Words Yours

Keep in mind whatever words you choose to say, you need to own.  In the beginning these direct conversations may feel awkward. You may feel unsure of how to word things. Over time it will get easier as your confidence grows and the discomfort becomes less disconcerting.  Till then, try to use these phrases above to get started. You may edit them a touch to make them yours, but refrain from going back to your old ways or you will get your old results.

As you try out these phrases, let me know how they worked for you.  If you come up with other great opening lines, I hope you’ll share them. I’d love to hear your experiences.