One of these days I’m going to write a book on all of the important life lessons I’ve learned from our incredibly insightful daughter…and from watching Chopped Junior on Food Network. (Seriously, if you’ve never watched that show it’s a must. The maturity that these Junior Chefs display both in their culinary skills and in their interpersonal skills is mind-blowing and awe-inspiring. We, as adults, have a lot to learn from them regarding gratitude, grace, personal responsibility, and respect for your peers.)
Back to life lessons. I received a big ole dose of learning yesterday. Our fourteen year old daughter went over to a friend’s house to work on a group school project. There are three of them in this group and all three have been incredibly close friends for years. And like most friendships they have their ups and downs. As you can imagine at this age, hormones, strong personalities, and the fact that none of them will be attending the same school next year all contribute to violent ups and downs in their relationship over the past year.
While at school last Friday, a particularly nasty episode took place launching them into a hurtful downward spiral that caused all three to declare the end of their friendship and the end of this school project that was due the beginning of the week.
Knowing that none of them can afford a 0 on this project, my daughter decided to coax the other two into getting together long enough to complete their work. After a long debate and I think even some bribing, they agreed that they needed to get this project done. So, they met.
Two hours later I receive a text from my daughter saying they had gotten nothing accomplished because they couldn’t agree on anything and decided to go to the local greenway for inspiration. Two hours later, still no progress had been made. Then I received a text asking me to come get her. She said that the afternoon had been absolutely horrible and she had had enough. She didn’t care if they never spoke to each other again and didn’t care if she got a 0 on the project.
So far, this story sounds a lot like some of the interactions I’ve witnessed between adults. Whether it be trying to work together on a project at work or accomplishing something as a volunteer, we let our egos and our personalities keep us from making progress and accomplishing the greatness we can achieve when we put our heads together. I’ve also seen it happen in friendships. Life-long friendships that dissolve overnight due to an unwillingness to work through an issue and an unexplainable desire to just shut it all down. It always makes me sad to see friends who were friends for years no longer speak to each other or even worse, having nothing nice to say about the other person at all.
But for our daughter and her friends, the story didn’t stop here. A few minutes later I received another text. This one was to ask me to give her a little more time. She said that after a lot of yelling and quite a few tears, they decided their friendship was too important to just throw away so quickly. They wanted to spend a little time trying to figure out how to get it all back on track.
When I did go get her later that evening, she had a smile on her face and seemed more relaxed. She thanked me for letting her stay to work things out. She said that after they decided that their friendship was more important than who’s idea was used for their project, they set everything aside to plow through the underlying problems. They took turns speaking of their hurt, why they were angry, and how each friend was making them feel awful. Our daughter said that this part of their conversation was really uncomfortable and she immediately wanted to get defensive. But when she heard each person’s point of view, she understood that their perspective was different than hers and that she needed to take that into consideration before reacting to their actions and words.
Once they got everything out in the open, they then spoke about all the things they love about each other, all the things they love about their friendship, and all of the reasons why their friendship is so important to them. She said they quickly discovered that all of the good reasons far outweighed all of the hurtful things that had been going on. She said, “the weird thing, Mom, is that we weren’t being honest with each other because we didn’t want to hurt the other person. But not being honest was making us really mean to each other instead. I think it’s better to just be honest and maybe hurt them a little rather than just be really mean because you are holding your feelings in and end up hurting them a lot.”
Wise beyond her years.
So, the next time you find that your human dynamics are a bit mucked up, I want you to follow these three steps.
1. I want you to take a hard, internal look at what’s driving your behavior. What are you reacting to? Do you feel insignificant? Is your ego in the way? Do you feel less loved? Do you feel you are in competition for something? What’s really driving your behavior.
2. Communicate those feelings to the person or people who are the source of what you are feeling. Note, this should be done in a loving, non-threatening, non-accusatory way. It is simply a sharing of what you are experiencing so that they gain some insight to your perspective. I promise, that if you have gotten to this point, they sense that something is amiss as well and they will be relieved to have the opportunity to gain a better understanding.
3. Finish the conversation by expressing all of the things that you love and value about your relationship with them and invite them to share with you their perspective and what they’ve been feeling during this time of being out of alignment with each other.
None of this is easy. Like a lot of things in life, honesty like this takes courage. But I bet you will find, just like our daughter did, that saving a truly valuable relationship makes it all worth it.