I often get told "How can anyone not like you!" or "I bet everyone loves you!" which for me are pretty fascinating statements to be associated with. The reason for this is that I spent most of my childhood and half of my twenties being a fair bit awkward. For example, I didn't enjoy university much at all as I just couldn't settle or find a solid friendship group.
The girls who I ended up living with for two years found me overly sensitive and uptight and I was pretty miserable, too.
Flash forward a decade or so, and I have several solid friendships and a large number of wonderful aquaintances. Given that I work for myself, I no longer need to deal with office politics, however, from time to time I still have disconnects in my peer groups.
The causes of disconnects
The biggest learning that I've had over the last couple of years when it comes to "disconnects" is that there are only two causes:
1) What I'm making it mean.
2) What they're making it mean.
An example: A few years ago, as a teacher at a prep school in Notting Hill, I had a really difficult relationship with one of the senior members of staff. Initially we got on just fine, but within four or five months the tables turned. She stopped communicating with me, to the point that she wouldn't acknowledge me when in her presence, except when I directed a question straight at her. The worst part of this situation was that she was supposed to be my mentor and was sharing my class with me. It was awkward to say the least!
So, what did I make her behaviour mean? I made her behaviour mean that she didn't like me and that I wasn't good enough. Both may have been true, but they may have also not been true. There could have been a plethora of reason for her to change her behaviour like this, and I chose to believe the reasons that supported my belief of myself and thereby propagated the disconnect.
What did this senior teacher make what I was doing/saying mean? This I'll never really know as I can't get into her head and never asked her outright. Possibilities that she may have conjured up may have included that I didn't care enough about the job or wasn't committed enough to it, that I was arrogant, that I was lazy, that I was extremist in my choice of diet, that I was a parasite that needed squashing because otherwise I would infect her mind and turn her and everyone else into leaf-eating drones…!
The problem was that neither of us addressed the elephant in the room, but became increasingly defensive and, in some cases, offensive. Perhaps, I should have stopped being passive and taken charge of the situation by saying,
"Listen, I get the impression that there's some bad feeling between us and I'd like to address it because it's important to me that we work well together."
It's possible that she would have been defensive and replied that she didn't know what I was talking about. On the other hand, opening up this conversation may have allowed her to vent her frustrations and for us to resolve what was going on instead of letting this difficult relationship to spiral into outright unpleasantness over the following 6 months.
If I had been fiercely courageous and spoken my truth, she may have also had more respect for me.
As I've been writing this post I have realised that this is still an area in my life that I need to work on as I had a minor recent incident which I should have tended to. What I know I need to do is acknowledge when I sense that a relationship has gone out of wack and to check in with myself what my truth is around the situation. Once I've done that I need to address the problem with the other person involved and not be attached to the outcome of that conversation as it might not turn out the way that I want it to turn out.
My top tips
Here are my top tips for dealing with a difficult relationship:
1) Acknowledge the disconnect to yourself. If you feel that something's not right, something's not right. Don't sweep it under the carpet or bury your head in the sand.
2) Check in with yourself around what you're feeling about yourself and the situation. Is there something that you know you need to do more of or less of? Do you need to ask for support?
3) Be courageous and make a stand by addressing the person concerned in a matter of fact way, for example: "I've noticed that there is a disconnect between us, which I'd like to address as it's important to me that we work well together. How do you feel about our relationship?"
4) Be open to an open discussion. Talk about the relationship and behaviours and not the person. For example, you might say, "When you do X it makes me feel Y." (NOT, "You are so selfish when you speak on the phone as it's really loud and I can't concentrate!")
5) Detach yourself from your outcome. You may get what you want, but you might not. You will still be making progress, even if it's not what you expected.
What tips do you have for dealing with a disconnected relationship? Have you tried these tips? What did you discover? Please share your comments, I love to read them!