We’ve all experienced the devastating effects of miscommunication. When we find ourselves in conflict with a spouse, friend, or colleague, our natural tendency is to fall into one of two patterns: fight or flight.
But we all know that strong, healthy partnerships take great deal of work. They require a sincere commitment from both parties if they’re to survive the test of time.
In a perfect world, a handshake and a verbal agreement would be all that is needed for two people to get along. Sadly, we’ve all discovered that meaningful partnerships are not held together by sincerity (or even “love”), but by agreements. When we enter into a formal agreement, both parties benefit from the instant clarity that comes from clearly-defined expectations.
In fact, the vast majority of conflicts arise from unmet—and often uncommunicated—expectations.
Many years ago, I adopted these five key relationship principles. When used together, they create a strong foundation for building healthy, long-lasting partnerships. My wife and I have agreed to live by these principles, and I even include a modified version of these principles in hiring agreements with contractors and employees. I can’t tell you just how invaluable they’ve been in strengthening my key relationships.
Conflict is unavoidable. Whenever two people are involved, there will be disagreements from time to time. Count on it. But when it happens, it doesn’t have to be relationship-ending. These five practices can keep your key relationships from getting derailed.
In fact, as you become more practiced, you’ll find that conflicts are resolved easier and easier, and even become the gateways to stronger relationships that are more secure and healthier in every way.
Here are the five simple relationship principles that will help you resolve conflicts before they happen…
1. The Loyalty Principle
Faithfulness to a relationship means loyalty to the other person. When problems become the primary focus of a relationship, everything else gets tossed aside in favor of merely airing differences, which is at best unproductive, if not outright detrimental to the relationship.
THE COMMITMENT: I’m not going anywhere. Our relationship is far more important than any offense between us. When I have a conflict, I resolve to work it out with you. Quitting or leaving is not an acceptable option, and I recognize that confrontation is the gateway to deeper friendship.
THE QUESTION: Does this problem threaten to end our relationship?
2. The Four-Day Principle
Resolving conflicts preserves—and strengthens—friendships. Offenses between friends can quickly become detrimental. Bringing issues to closure within a reasonable amount of time maintains the health of a relationship.
THE COMMITMENT: I will not allow any problem I have with you to go unresolved for more than four days. If, within that length of time, I have not been able to settle the issue myself, I promise I will communicate this with you.
THE QUESTION: How long have you been troubled about this problem?
3. The First Word Principle
No one enjoys being confronted in public. It’s always better to go to the person privately… before speaking to dozens of others, in an attempt to garner support and justification for our hurt feelings.
Honestly, have you ever made a point of returning to each and every one of those people to whom you spoke about the offense, to let them know how things resolved? That it was just a big misunderstanding? If you don’t, there are now a dozen other folks out there, carrying a grudge on your behalf. Stop it before it happens by simply going to the individual who offended you first.
THE COMMITMENT: You will be the first person to hear about any problem I have with you. I will not talk to anyone else about the issue until I have spoken with you.
THE QUESTION: Have you spoken to anyone else about this offense?
4. The Last Word Principle
If we respect the words we hear from each other, we don’t need constant assurances of the well-being of our relationship. We can be confident that all is well because we have not been told otherwise.
In the military, the last order received still stands… until or unless a new order is given.
THE COMMITMENT: Unless I hear otherwise directly from you, I will continue to believe and act on the last words we spoke concerning our relationship and live as if you will do the same. If anything changes on my part, I will communicate with you.
THE QUESTION: Did you forget or disregard what we last spoke to one another concerning our relationship?
5. The “ESP” Principle
Look, no one can know what you are thinking or feeling, until you communicate those thoughts or feelings with them. It is not reasonable to expect another person to read your thoughts. “You should have known I was upset!”
THE COMMITMENT: I will not hold you accountable for things that I have not discussed with you, no matter how strongly I may feel. I will not expect you to interpret my actions or my heart’s condition. It is my responsibility to approach you if I need your help.
THE QUESTION: Are you offended that I did not recognize you were troubled?
So how does it work in real life?
Any time a conflict arises, we sit down, and ask each other the five questions outlined above. If at any point, the answer is “Yes,” we stop right there and address the breakdown in our agreement, because it’s clear we need to work on the relationship before we tackle the specifics of the issue at hand.
Only when we have a “green light” on each of these five points do we finally begin to talk about the specifics of the offense. As a result, it becomes infinitely easier to resolve the conflict when both parties are resting comfortably in the knowledge that the relationship comes first, and is secure.
But even better… you’ll find that many minor offenses are resolved before they ever become a major conflict!
“He had a funny look on his face when we passed in the hall. He must be upset with me.”
Finding out that someone has an issue with you through the “grapevine.”
“Several months ago, you said something that hurt me. I didn’t say anything then, but now…”
Can you imagine the benefit of putting these keys into practice today?
Does any one of these principles particularly resonate with you? What difference do you think it would make if you put these into practice in your key relationships today?
Got other questions about how this works in real life? Ask in the comments below…
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I learned these five relationship principles from my friend, Ron Corzine, who is without a doubt one of the most encouraging men I’ve ever known.