Martha’s long-time friend, Janet, recently missed a birthday luncheon for Martha. “She just didn’t show,” says Martha, who feels hurt and betrayed. “Lately, Janet’s been pulling away. If she doesn’t value our friendship anymore, I’d rather be told than be stood up.”
Actually, Janet has been under a lot of pressure at work, and finding time to “check in” with Martha has been impossible. During the luncheon, Janet was dealing with a crisis and could not get to a phone. When Martha and Janet finally got in touch, Martha was standoffish and cold. “Martha was being so unreasonable,” says Janet. “I grew angry at her for expecting too much from me.”
Martha and Janet’s story illustrates how easily a simple misunderstanding can escalate into a conflict between friends. Good friends are expected to be loyal, honest, trustworthy, fun to be with, reliable, willing to listen, nonjudgmental, caring and supportive. Such high expectations, however, can make close friendships more vulnerable to conflict than casual ones.
Why friendship matters
Sometimes, it may seem easier to walk away from a friendship than address a serious conflict. But, working through such problems and making amends is vital to maintaining worthwhile friendships, both close and casual. Why is this so important?
People need friends to thrive. Friendships provide a sense of connectedness. Friends help you to look at yourself in ways you might never have before. They shed light on your good and bad qualities and boost self-esteem. Friends help ease stress and hardship through laughter and fun times. They can help you get ahead. Friends stand by you in times of despair or grief and celebrate with you in times of good fortune and achievement. Friendships are enriching and worth the time and trouble. Communication is the secret to a healthy, lasting friendship and the key to effective problem solving.
Effective communication involves two parts: presenting information and active listening. Without both, resolving conflict is impossible, as is maintaining your friendships. Practice these skills:
- Think before speaking. Know exactly what message you want to convey.
- Make sure your friend has your full attention and understands your meaning.
- Stay focused on the matter at hand.
- Be clear and precise.
- Listen to yourself speak.
- Be aware of your body movement, voice inflection, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.
- Pay attention to what your friend is saying and acknowledge your interest and understanding in what your friend is saying.
- Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
- Do not interrupt, get angry or judge.
When resolving conflict, keep these additional communication tips in mind:
- Remain calm. Recognize when you are becoming defensive or too emotional.
- Do not blame or accuse each other.
- Focus on the issue at hand, not the way you are feeling toward each other.
- Explore underlying issues.
- Accept that each other’s perspective is different, but not wrong.
- Be willing to apologize and forgive.