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It Doesn’t Always Take Two to Tango

Conflicts of Interest Blog by Vivian Scott

Old, unresolved conflicts can be maddening, heartbreaking, and distracting. And, because it takes two to tango you may think that it takes two to bring closure. Most times you’re probably right but I discovered the other day that that’s not always the case.

For the past few years I’ve gotten the cold shoulder from someone who has the skills to address disagreements with me but has chosen not to. Every once in a while I would run into him and be reminded that he’s very angry about something and it would dredge up the fact that even as a mediator there are some things in my personal life I’m just not interested in “fixing.” Sometimes I would see him and think, “What a jerk,” and sometimes I would feel guilty about not being the bigger person and working to make things right between us. There was a time when I thought highly of him and truly enjoyed his company. I considered him a friend.

After our falling-out I gave him the space to speak about it when the time was right for him and didn’t try to rush a conversation. The weeks turned into months and the months turned into years. Crickets. A few weeks ago I attended an event and saw him from across the room. The usual contradictory thoughts of his character ran through my mind and I decided I was no longer willing to have this situation hanging over my head. I, too, have skills and it was high time I used them. So, I approached him.

I found a moment in which no one else was around and sat next to him. I said I missed him, that I had tried to ignore the good things about him in order to stay away, and then stated that when he was ready, I was willing to talk. I had no expectation that my approach would make him melt. And, I was right. I was vulnerable and as he sat in stony silence, I felt he was taking advantage of that vulnerability to try to make me feel small. It took a lot of self-talk not to go to the “what a jerk” place in mind. He finally said he would need more time to which I reiterated that whenever he was ready the door was open and then I walked away.

And, then I saw a flash in the room. Not a real flash from the overhead fluorescent lights, but the kind of lightening strike that comes when you have a life-changing realization. I had closure. I realized that it didn’t really matter to me if we ever talked. For a second that thought felt very wrong because it didn’t fit my perceived notion of closure. And, yet, I felt closure stronger than I’d ever felt it before. I was good, I had clarity, and I considered it “over” for me.

My hope for you, reader, is that you have a similar experience. Is there a negative situation hanging around you that could find closure without the other person? Maybe putting your thoughts down in a letter, extending as much of an olive branch as you’re willing, or simply breaking the ice with a quick email wishing them well might help you get there. It doesn’t have to be a big production. You don’t have to get the House and the Senate to agree, you just have to open a door and let the fresh air into your own house.


Vivian Scott

Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies.  She spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing where she realized resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success.  Through creative solutions… MORE >

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