Dear Crucial Skills,
After ten years of not speaking, I made the crucial call to my sister-in-law.
Even though I wrote down what I wanted to say, my voice still cracked when I said, “I need to level with you about something and I feel bad about doing it so late. I had concerns and never expressed them. I should have been candid with you, but I wasn’t.”
She said, “You know, it has been ten years. Why did you stop talking to me?” She went on to say that I had driven the family apart.
I gave her the reason behind my actions and said, “What can I do now to get what I really want for our families and for us? I am not here to win. My goal is to get a long-term, healthy family relationship.”
We both agree this won’t be easy. I feel good that this initial conversation is over but what are my next steps?
Happy 10th Anniversary
Dear 10th Anniversary,
What a marvelous accomplishment! To overcome the inertia of ten years of silence, and to risk rejection and judgment in order to heal and repair relationships is heroic. I love your courageous and thoughtful approach. You used all of the principles, skills, and critical questions we advocate in Crucial Conversations to break through the barrier of silence between you and your sister-in-law. Now, after having taken this wonderful first step, you ask, “What is my next step?”
When we see the need for a crucial conversation we stop, think through the situation, and identify the principles and skills that will guide us successfully through the interaction. Then we gratefully put the skills back in our toolbox and return to our hectic routine with our “business-as-usual” approach. Many don’t realize that every principle and skill can not only be used to help you through a crucial conversation, but these powerful tools can also be used to heal or salvage a crucial relationship. So the answer to your question is that after having your initial crucial conversation, the best way to repair your relationship with your sister-in-law is to have more crucial conversations.
Having gotten off to such a great beginning, continue using your skills and principles. In the initial conversation you established a mutual purpose of achieving “a long-term, healthy family relationship.” Build on that. Appeal to that mutual purpose when you take initiative and suggest activities that will accomplish that goal. For example, you might say, “To help build a long-term, healthy relationship between our families I’d like to suggest we get our spouses and children and have a picnic together some Saturday. What do you think?” Mutual purpose is the foundation of safe relationships.
In addition to building mutual purpose, build the condition of mutual respect into every interaction. Realize that you’ve taken time to think through your approach to building a relationship with your sister-in-law; she probably has not. You might have caught her by surprise and occasionally she might lash out or express her hurt in a disrespectful way. Stay true to your purpose by being unconditionally respectful. This can be done by letting her experience your resolve. Or, when necessary, be quick to apologize for the lost time and reiterate your good intent. You must also have the courage and consideration to listen to her feelings without judgment or rebuttal as she sorts things out.
Finally, in all your dialogue with her, remember to ask, mirror, paraphrase and prime as you see ways these skills can invite her to share her experience and meaning with you.
Having begun the healing process of re-establishing a crucial relationship, you may need to reach out and include others beyond your sister-in-law; perhaps you’ll need to have crucial conversations with her spouse, children, or your parents.
I applaud your courageous and wonderful first step and encourage you to press forward in your work of healing. I am confident your hard efforts will be worth it in the end, as you achieve the relationship you now desire.