Last year, I lost what I thought was my best friend. Until that point, we’d been very close. I won’t get deep into the details of what happened because I truly don’t know her perspective. But there are a few things I know.
I know she blindsided me with a screaming fit to “explain” something she thought I’d done. I know she screamed and yelled irrationally and wouldn’t listen to anything I tried to say. I know her behavior made me so uncomfortable that I had to block her from contacting me because I truly began to worry about my safety and that of my family.
And I know that even after she’d surely had time to calm down, she never tried to apologize.
From her perspective, she may have felt completely justified. I don’t know. I’ll never know because of how she handled it from the start.
But from that experience, I did learn some rules to resolving a conflict with a friend — if resolution is your goal.
Choose the right time to reach out and bring it up
My former friend totally blindsided me. There was no heads up, no distancing, not even so much as a “We need to talk about something” to let me know something was up. So even if she hadn’t been screaming at me, I would have felt attacked simply because it came totally out of the blue.
Don’t do that to your friend. Even if you know that you both know there’s a problem, there’s always a right time and place. Reach out by text or phone call and let your friend know you have something you’d like to discuss with them. Ask when a good time would be. Pull them aside at a party or event and ask when you might be able to talk alone.
But don’t just bring it up out of the blue. Your friend deserves better than to be blindsided.
Have the conversation face-to-face
Even if you need to resort to a video chat, have this conversation face-to-face. So much of communication comes through body language and facial expressions, both of which are lost in texting and phone calls. A face-to-face conversation will help cut down on misunderstandings and miscommunications that result from misreading someone’s tone in a text.
If you must, you can do it with a phone call. But if you can manage at least a video chat, some method that at least allows you to see their face can make this conversation much easier. It will also help to remind both of you that there’s a real person that you care about on the other side of this conversation.
Try not to see it as a confrontation
Conflict means there’s an issue. There’s a problem of some sort, even if it’s just a misunderstanding, that needs to be sorted out and addressed. This can make us mistakenly think that this conversation with our friend is a confrontation.
But, just like in a romantic relationship, you should instead view this as you and your friend being on the same side. You both (hopefully) want to save your friendship and that means being on the same team.
Even if the problem is that your friend said or did something that deeply hurt you, try to avoid seeing it as a confrontation. See it as an opportunity to share your hurt, to allow your friend to understand what they did and why it hurt you, and hopefully grow from the experience.
Viewing it as a confrontation will only encourage being combative, frustrated, and lead to arguments and more hurt feelings.
Plan what you want to say
When things don’t go the way we expect, we can spiral down a rabbit hole. This can lead to ignoring the real problem and bringing up a dozen other things that happened at some point during your friendship — things that have nothing to do with the current conflict.
Take the time to plan what you want to say. You don’t need to write a whole speech. Just jot down or outline in your head the main points you want to make. This will allow you to stick to the point, remember everything important, and organize your thoughts in a way that makes sense and moves the conversation forward.
Don’t personally attack your friend
When we’re angry or hurt, it’s so easy to lash out and say hurtful things. We know our friend is flaky and sensitive about it, so we throw it in their face. Or we remind them of what we did for them when they were down and out and make them feel bad for having once struggled.
Don’t personally attack your friend. Don’t make the conflict about their personal flaws and shortcomings. Remember what the conflict is about and stick to it. Leave personal attacks out of it unless you’re ready to walk away from the friendship. And even then, reconsider.
Hurting someone, particularly if it’s bringing up a flaw or shortcoming they have no control over, doesn’t make anyone feel better in the long run.
Don’t make accusations
Even if you think they did something to deliberately hurt or irritate you, don’t make accusations. Remember this is not supposed to be a confrontation; it’s supposed to be an open dialogue that will heal your friendship. That won’t happen if you’re flinging accusations.
Instead, use plenty of “I” statements. Instead of “You did that to hurt me,” try “I felt like you didn’t care about my feelings.” It’s a small difference in phrasing but it can make an enormous difference in whether the other person feels empathy for how you felt or just gets angry and defensive.
This is particularly important when it comes to bringing up secondhand knowledge. For example, don’t say, “You told Jamie I was a bitch.” Say, “Jamie told me that you said I was a bitch. Is that true?” Again, it’s a small difference in phrasing but it can really change the conversation.
Be open to their viewpoint and feelings
When we’re in conflict with someone else, it’s pretty easy to get stuck in our own perspective and feelings and believe that it’s the only one — and the right one. But remember that your friend probably has their own perspective and feelings about the situation and they might not match yours.
Be open to how they’re feeling and how they see the same conflict. Put yourself in their shoes (and hopefully they return the favor) and try to acknowledge that you might be wrong in how you see things.
Even if you find it difficult to admit you might be wrong, or you’re very clearly right, putting yourself in their shoes can help you find other ways to get them to see it from your point of view as well. When you can see it from their perspective, you can see things they might have missed.
Conflict usually comes with a full complement of negative emotions: anger, hurt, frustration, annoyance, etc. And those feelings tend to go from mild to major in a matter of seconds. But unleashing a bunch of rage or hurt on your friend isn’t likely to resolve your conflict with them.
Remaining calm, on the other hand, is likely to resolve it. When you remain calm and don’t let negative emotions overwhelm you, you can explain your points logically and clearly. This means your friend will understand you much better. They’re also more likely to remain calm themselves.
And if both of you can stay calm, there’s a much higher chance of you resolving the conflict and keeping your friendship intact — and doing it quickly.
Accept that your friendship might have run its course
As I’ve said before, not all friendships are lifetime subscriptions. Sometimes we’re only meant to be friends with someone for so long before we outgrow each other. And sometimes a conflict can be a sign that you and your friend have outgrown each other and it’s time to let go of the friendship.
Before you go into the conversation to resolve the conflict, be willing to accept that the friendship might be over. This will keep you from continuing to engage in the conversation once it becomes clear that you can’t resolve it. It will allow you to more easily see when there isn’t a resolution to this conflict other than letting go of the friendship.
Don’t be afraid to take a break from the friendship if there doesn’t seem to be a good resolution to the conflict. Sometimes just taking a break from each other can clarify the problem and give you a resolution. It can also help you to see when the friendship is truly over and allow you to part ways without hard feelings and resentment.
I don’t know that these would have made a difference
I can’t tell you today that if my former friend had done these things, it would have turned out differently. I don’t know that it would have.
But what I do know is that if she had been able to have a reasonable conversation, we could have tried these things. And then, in the end, we might have wished each other well as we parted ways instead of me blocking her through every possible contact method because I was so angry, hurt, and disturbed by her behavior.
You might find that even when you implement all of these, it doesn’t quite turn out the way you’d like. But at least by following these rules, you’ll be able to walk away knowing you did all you could. You’ll know that walking away was the only option left to you.
Wendy Miller is a freelance relationship writer & meditation teacher. After years of settling for abusive and otherwise toxic relationships, she got fed up. Using meditation and other tools, she got to work on healing herself, setting boundaries, and only engaging in relationships (romantic and otherwise) that bring her joy. She wants to help other single parents find the love they seek, including and going beyond romantic love. She lives in Florida with her two sons, where she homeschools while solo parenting, while surrounded by what feels like a zooful of animals.
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