It's OK to renegotiate your relationship contracts

Renegotiating allows both parties to engage in a way that is respectful, authentic, and mutually beneficial, says Rashada Whitehead, president and chief transformation officer of KGBerry.

A few Fridays ago, I received back-to-back calls from one of my very best friends. At first, I continued with the call I was on and made note to call her back when I was done. After the third consecutive call, I thought: I’d better see what she wants.

Once on the line, she proceeded to tell me how she was dealing with a 911 situation and needed my assistance. She went on to say that she was working against a super tight deadline that called for me to take action by 5 p.m. (which was less than 20 minutes away).

I felt my chest get tight. I could not have been more irritated. First, I genuinely did not want to help with this particular situation. Second, my dear friend has been notorious for these last minute fire drills and quite frankly, this had gotten old. Part of me was resentful. I felt she had put me between a rock and a hard place (again) and was giving me few alternatives as to how I could react to the situation.

Full disclosure, I helped her. However, I knew this was the end of the rope.

Sharing this with her was uncomfortable and loaded – because as much as I was speaking to this specific scenario, I was bringing emotion from our long history of this "call me at the last minute for a bailout" behavior. Although I believe she understood where I was coming from, I sensed she didn’t take it well. In the week following, we didn’t speak at all.

If I was working with a client on "how to have tough conversations" or "embody the culture you want to live in," I would have suggested they take an inside-out approach and examine what was happening inside the organization that was having this consistent and undesirable, external impact. I decided to take my own advice.

Here is what I discovered: I could be no more irritated with my friend than I was with myself. The truth is, I was responsible for co-creating this relationship with her. It took us years to get here. And in my frustration to get out of it, I had to acknowledge and accept that it was my desire to renegotiate the terms and conditions of our relationship contract.

I signed on board for it. My signature was all over it. Perhaps there was a degree of value that I found in being a hero. Maybe the weight of being the hero was leading me to play the victim. Or, perhaps I wasn’t courageous enough to say "no" out of fear for how it would impact our relationship. Maybe, the answer is all of the above.

What is more important is that this scenario helped me draw parallels to other relationships in my life – past and present – where there was a tipping point or line in the sand and things started to shift. In all cases I could recall, there was a significant role I played in co-creating the dynamic that led to certain outcomes.

Without making generalizations, I believe this is true for most of us. The sentiment of being taken for granted could be a reoccurring theme. Whether it’s a parent, partner, child, sibling, friend, boss, or co-worker – most of us can relate to the crossroads – where a difficult conversation needed to happen and a part of us felt like that other person was the root of all the issues. Take this as a nudge, or even a subtle challenge to consider that maybe, just maybe, as much as it is them, it also may be you.

Here’s the thing: it is always OK to renegotiate your relationship contracts. Not only is it OK, it’s healthy. Renegotiating keeps things fresh and honest. It allows both parties to engage in a way that is respectful, authentic, and mutually beneficial, which are all great ways to live that inside-out approach.

Read the fine print: If any relationship for any reason isn’t working, I have the right to immediately renegotiate the contract terms and conditions to whatever degree of time and measure, so they are respectful and mutually beneficial to all parties involved, provided I inform said parties immediately and actively engage them in the renegotiation process.

I have found the toughest conversations are the ones never had. And the unspoken feelings become thorns in the side of connection and productivity – especially at work. When we renegotiate, we send a signal that what we both want and need matters. In many cases, this opens the door for a candid and compassionate exchange that can shift and renew meaningful relationships that otherwise may suffer.

In the case of my friend, what I did not know is that she never realized I had become tired of this glitch in our communications system. However, I later found out that she was in her own way tired of it too, for very different reasons.

The impact of our co-recreation has been great. We are back in stride, with some extra pep in our steps. And the sweetest part about all of this is the inspiration this provided for me to renegotiate another very key relationship – and that is the one with myself.

Rashada Whitehead is a professor, writer, and the president and chief transformation officer of KGBerry, an organization that helps conscious companies navigate big changes. Connect with her here on Twitter.

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