When we find ourselves in a troubled relationship, we are often given the advice to work harder at the relationship to repair whatever damage has eroded trust or respect. Unfortunately, working harder at a relationship usually results in more dysfunction, not less.
When it comes to the complexity of emotions, expectations, and relationship history, the best leaders understand that new information, not just effort, is required to change the dynamics of a relationship in conflict.
By introducing new information into the relationship, the issues necessarily transform. Or, at least they can’t stay the same. New information changes how both parties see the issues and often breaks the logjam of resentment, hurt feelings, and distrust. Hence, the popular advice of sitting down and talking it out works best when the conversation covers new ground and doesn’t just rehash history.
New information comes in many forms, including the perceptions of others, explanations for why we act or react the way we do, apologies, the intentions of the parties when they engage, what we value and why, what learnings have taken place, the expectations we have for how we are treated, the implicit rules of engagement in the relationship and so on. By definition, new information encourages new understandings.
By injecting new information into a troubled relationship, we change the nature of what feeds the conflict or problem. What commonly springs from this injection is either a new understanding of what has occurred in the past or a new path forward. The next time you find yourself in a troubled relationship, don’t double down and work even harder. Instead, ask yourself what information will change the dynamic of the relationship and allow for a new conversation to occur.