A skillfully expressed apology might be sufficient to repair a relationship. But more often than not, a second kind of conversation is required. It is the conversation about what you and the other person need from one another to work together effectively in the future. I call this the “relationship reset” conversation.

A relationship reset conversation generally follows the kind of apology we covered in part 2 of this blog series and requires the repair mindset I described in part 1. Relationship reset is about re-contracting with the other person. It involves three interrelated skills:

Making requests: A skillful request consists of the Four W’s: 1) what you need from the other person, 2) when (or under what circumstances) you need it, 3) why it matters, and 4) willingness or confirmation that the other person is willing to commit to this. Here’s an example of a clear request:

When we are in the weekly staff meeting and I begin to express my opinion to the team (when) I would like you to hear me out fully without interrupting me in the middle of what I am saying (what). I’ll feel a greater sense of respect and reassurance that you are listening to me when I can express myself without interruption (why). Would you be willing to hear me out without interruption in team meetings (willing)?

Articulating mutual commitments: What comes out of the “willingness” element of the request is an invitation to make a commitment – one that you are both willing to abide by. Commitments in the context of relationship repair should be mutual. In other words, you should both be prepared to make and honor these. A commitment statement is a declarative statement with the same elements as above. Note that a commitment is not a promise to try to do better. It describes what you intend to do.

I commit to stop interrupting you when you speak during our team meetings. A more positive version of this might sound like: I commit to hearing you out fully during our team meetings.

Getting to the real need: Often a request addresses a specific problem but underneath a particular challenge is a broader need. Before making a commitment it is useful to explore the underlying need behind a request. The request related to interruptions is likely expressing a broader need to feel heard and acknowledged. This exploration might result in a commitment that sounds more like this:

I commit to hearing you out fully during our team meeting and before expressing my opinion, acknowledging my understanding of what you have said.

After you reset the contract set up some check-in times to review how things are going and provide feedback. If you are a flawed human like most of us, you will have lapses, take missteps, and experience disappointment. Stay accountable to your human-ness and your new contract by doing these things:

1) Deal with problems in real-time
2) Own your part of the problem
3) Keep the lines of conversation open
4) Extend grace to one another

What would you add to this list?

Photo Credit: VooDooAngel