What is difficult is knowing exactly what needs to be done in order to set the relationship back on the right track. More often than not, something happened to damage the relationship and someone needs to be "made whole again."
One key to successfully navigating these situations is to listen carefully at what each party is saying in order to determine exactly who needs to be made whole and how.
Here is an example:
- A High School teacher suspects cheating on a test and follows the school procedure for looking into the matter (uses discretion with the student, contacts the Dean and Division Head, awaits the administrative decision before taking any further action).
- The student is cleared of any wrong doing.
- The teacher is informed of the decision and accepts it.
- The Dean of Students is contacted by the student's parents.
- The parents are upset that the teacher would suspect their child of cheating and demand an apology from the teacher to the student.
What can the teacher, who did nothing wrong, do? Let's probe a little deeper to form a plan to satisfy all parties (including the teacher who shouldn't have to apologize for fulfilling her obligation to the mission of the school). Here are a few questions to consider.
- Why do the parents want an apology?
- Has the student expressed hurt feelings? Does the student feel he was wronged?
- Do the parents perceive the situation as a judgment against them? In other words, did suspecting their child of cheating hurt THEIR feelings and thus are looking for an apology for THEM?
- Is the student embarrassed by the situation and feels unable to communicate directly to the teacher?
A reasonable plan for the teacher can address all of these items. Here is a suggestion that can help everyone get "back to whole."
- The teacher should call or, even better, meet with the parents to discuss the situation and to emphasize that the teacher still maintains a high opinion of the student. The Dean of Students (and possibly the Division Head) should probably also be invited to sit in. This is particularly important for the Dean because she was contacted by the parents to begin with.
- The teacher should also meet with the student to review what happened and communicate that, as far as the teacher is concerned, the matter is over. Asking the student how to repair the relationship is also important. The student may not have an answer ready, so be prepared to offer more specific questions such as, "What can I do to demonstrate my confidence in you?" or "In what ways can I show you that I still have a high opinion of you in class?"
In almost any situation involving hurt feelings or a perception of negative judgement (nobody ever voices opposition to compliments), it is important to recognize the feelings and work towards an understanding and resolution that satisfies ALL parties. Sometimes that resolution requires work to be done over time. Others are more effective because they do not require a long term plan.
Either way, figuring our who exactly needs to be made whole and how to address the needs of each person involved is likely to produce a desirable outcome.