Nicole hasn't spoken to her best friend, Emily, in nearly a month. "It's beginning to feel like we were never friends at all," claims Nicole. "But it's not my fault. She's upset with me because I got the lead role in the school play, the same part she was trying for. But I can't help it if the director thought I would be better for the part than Emily."
When Jason and Ryan started a lawn-mowing business, everything was fine at first. "But then Jason started insisting that everything be done his way, and he wouldn't listen to any of my ideas," Ryan says. "Finally one day I couldn't take it anymore, and I told him exactly what I thought. It turned into a huge blowup. That was three weeks ago. We folded up the business and have had nothing to do with each other since then."
Sooner or later friends are bound to misunderstand each other. A pal may forget to return your phone call, fail to write, ignore an important event, refuse to listen, pass along thoughtless comments or spitefully compete. These things happen to the best of friends, and they happen throughout our lives. But, no matter why or how you and your friend disagree, the important thing is to make sure to resolve your differences before they scar your friendship.
Here are some suggestions to help you work out your differences and reconcile with your friend before it's too late.
Anger begets anger
• Talk about it.
The most important thing you can do after a disagreement with a friend is to talk out the problem. This will give your friend a chance to tell his side of the story and you a chance to get your feelings off your chest.
The right kind of communication can strengthen a friendship, taking it to a new level. Conflict can be constructive when those involved want to work things out because they care about the friendship. But conflict is destructive when it becomes a means to gratify oneself by saying hurtful things to get back at the other person.
In a destructive conflict, the main outcome is that it becomes easier to fight again in the future. Each fight becomes a practice for the next. Each time you get angry, you're more likely to get angry again.
But, when two people discuss their differences constructively, their goal shifts from attacking each other to attacking a mutual problem. There is no fighting, yelling and name-calling.
The solution is to politely and respectfully open the lines of communication, refraining from attacking or criticizing the other person. Let your friend know that you value his friendship and because of that you want to discuss your differences.
Don't hang up
• Choose an appropriate time and place.
If you have a problem with a friend and want to talk about it, don't just scream at him over the telephone. He may have people over, be in the middle of dinner, or be studying for a big test. Try to arrange a time to talk when neither you nor your friend is upset. Ask your friend when the best time would be. Plan to talk somewhere in private, not in public where one or both of you may feel self-conscious.
Frame your conversation by saying something like, "I need to talk about something important, and I'm uncomfortable," or "This is hard to say, but I really need to tell you how I feel," suggests Kathleen Galvin, Ph.D., a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.
"This lets the other person sit back for a minute and think, Oh, this is important, so I should really pay attention," she says. "But, if you just charge in without any warning and start yelling, then the other person often just matches what you do."
Don't insert foot
• Choose your words wisely.
Before you open your mouth to speak, give yourself some time to think about how your words will come across. If you speak in anger, you're bound to say something you'll regret later. Comments such as "You're the most selfish person I've ever met!" will stick in your friend's mind for a long time.
Fight the urge to read off a list of your friend's annoying traits. Instead, start with something positive, such as, "Melinda, you've always been a good friend, and I know you'd never purposely hurt me, but I really felt bad the other day when you embarrassed me in front of Kyle."
Imagine the response that line would get compared with this approach: "Melinda, I can't believe how rude you were. Don't ever pull that sneaky trick again."
Talk from your own point of view: "I don't think you realize how much this is bothering me," or "I felt really terrible when you canceled plans at the last minute." Be specific. Don't make broad generalizations. Say, "I felt bad when you made that comment about me in class yesterday," rather than, "You're always insulting me in front of other people."
Wait your turn
• Listen to understand.
Good communication means also listening to how the other person feels. It means concentrating on what your friend is saying and hearing with an open mind. He may have a whole different perspective on the situation. Be prepared to listen and learn.
Take turns speaking. You can reverse roles in the course of the discussion. The speaker should not be interrupted. Every few minutes, the listener should summarize what the speaker has said; this shows that he is listening and that he accepts what the other person feels or that he is at least trying to understand.
Chances are that you and your friend will not agree on everything. Allow him to hold a different opinion from your own. In few disagreements is one party completely right and the other all wrong. In most cases both parties are at least partly to blame. Be willing to admit your mistakes. Even if you don't think you started the fight, you can say you're sorry for getting upset or for hurting your friend's feelings.
Walk a mile
• Give the benefit of the doubt.
Don't assume you know why your friend did what he did. We have different reasons for the things we do. Put yourself in your friend's shoes. He may be under a lot of pressure at school or have problems at home and may not stop to think how his actions have come across.
Sometimes what seems to be a major character flaw is simply a reflection of a different personality, upbringing or cultural background. Realize that others may not always mean what you thought you heard them say.
Choose your battles carefully. Not every problem is worth bringing up. Your friend's idiosyncrasies-such as tardiness, playing the radio too loud, forgetting to return phone calls-are rarely worth challenging the friendship over. Often you will just have to learn to live and let live. Sometimes, though, you may be able to help a friend change by talking about a problem with him.
Even good friends act rudely on occasion. When a friend makes a mistake, don't blow it out of proportion. Try not to judge your friend any more harshly than you would want to be judged. Realize that you may be the offender someday. Try to approach your friend about a problem in the same manner you would want to be confronted.
Even this will pass
• Give the friendship time.
Even if your talk goes well, it may take weeks or even months for your friendship to get back to normal. Usually both parties feel somewhat aggrieved, so it's usually best to leave things alone for a while. Bruised feelings are like any other bruise: You can't instantly make it feel better, and it takes some time before it's all healed.
"Both sides do better if there is some kind of acknowledgment that this was really tough and you don't feel real good about what happened," Dr. Galvin adds. "Talk about how you might handle the situation differently in the future so you don't have the same fight over and over again."
Keep in mind that it's normal for friends to clash now and then. What matters most is that you don't let misunderstandings destroy your friendship. True friends don't give up on each other when they see a few faults.
Remember these wise words from Proverbs 18:24 (New International Version): ". . . There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." GN