Crucial Conversations QA

How to Connect with Someone You Resent

Dear Joseph,

How do I talk to my father after not communicating with him for four years? I feel resentful that he has not supported my two younger brothers. My mom has had to take the brunt of whatever issues they have faced: lack of motivation, dragging them through high school so they graduate, drug addiction, unemployment. They often end up on her doorstep. When one brother faced a life and death situation, I sent a plea to my father to help. He rebuffed the plea and told me I was being manipulative. I was so upset that I broke off all communication. Part of me wonders if it is even worth making the effort, because he hasn’t attempted to contact me. But I also want a relationship with my dad. How should I frame an attempt at initiating this conversation after so long?

Signed,
First Contact

Dear Contact,

You need to decide if you want a relationship with the father you have or the father you wish you had. Your torment over the past years has come from your determination for the latter rather than acceptance of the former.

Your dad is who he is. He has chosen—rightly or wrongly—to deal with his younger sons differently than you thought he should. He has been less supportive of your mother than you think he should. He sees your attempts to engage him as manipulative while you see them as moral. You believe he should make overtures to reconnect with you after you broke off contact—and he hasn’t. You want a relationship with your dad—but even more than that, you want your dad to be the way you want him to be.

He won’t.

And your insistence that he be this other person has actually made you manipulative.

Now, please don’t hear me wrong. I am not defending anything your father has done or not done. You may well be “right” about the wisdom or morality of some of his decisions. I lack information with which to make any confident judgment of my own. But I have robust insight into your connection with him from your own wonderfully honest portrayal.

So, you’ve got a decision to make. What do you really want? Do you want a relationship with the person he is today? If so, by all means reconnect. If not, then take responsibility for the sacrifice your choice demands. It means you are choosing to surrender your relationship with your father. It means you are placing higher value on distance from his weaknesses than connection to your father. That is a completely legitimate choice for you to make. I only urge you to make it decisively and accept responsibility for it.

If you choose to reconnect, you may want to begin with an apology. Examine your motives for cutting him off over the past four years. What was going on with you? What were you acting like you wanted? And if, in any way, you are less than satisfied with what you find, own up to it. Acknowledge how you’ve fallen short of the person you wanted to be in your relationship with him. This doesn’t mean you surrender any judgments you have about how he has handled things with your brothers or mother. It simply means you are willing to surrender the desire to control and reshape him into someone he doesn’t choose to be.

I wish you the best as you make this tender and profound decision. And if you choose a relationship, I wish you as precious a one with him as you and he are capable of having.

Sincerely,
Joseph

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Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. For thirty years, Joseph has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Joseph’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

17 thoughts on “How to Connect with Someone You Resent”

  1. I have often enjoyed reading these letters and responses. Writers often lay themselves bare in the interest of resolving issues. But this one particularly struck me. Mr. Grenny’s response is profoundly wise and correctly focused on the only one in this situation the writer has any control over. In these days of the individual readily removing responsibility from himself, I find Mr. Grenny’s response refreshingly on target. I was in a similar situation myself with my own dad years ago. It was only when I was able to view the situation through lenses very much like the suggested ones above that I was able to work through the issue. My dad and I never did recover any semblance of a former relationship, of his choosing, but I was at least able to extend an offer of renewed relationship based on my acceptance of who he had become.

  2. “How to Connect with Someone You Resent”
    Could it be a one side painting of father as a villain? Could it be that mother wanted to raise the kids differently that the father did not align with and thus left mother with her decisions to live with.
    I have two sons. I was very hands on with the first one and pushed him through college. While i was busy with the first one, mom got closer to the second and protective of him. Now whenever i come around to walk him through the tough path, she resist and show him the easy way out. Always, he is still young and he will be alright later on.
    My older one never liked the tough path either when he was walking it, but now he is very thankful and appreciate it.
    He now blames me that i was not tough with his younger brother and did not force him to do certain things that he did not like.
    Our situation is not as bad, we are still working together, but my point is that there is always an other side to the story.

  3. This is so thoughtful and well-written. I was in a similar situation with a step-father who was very selfish and a verbal bully throughout my life. He was very disrespectful to my mother and when she died, I made the decision to terminate my relationship with him. My life has been better because of that decision. He was never able to apologize for anything he had said or done, or take responsibility for the harm he had caused over the years. There is no room in my life for someone like that. I hope this person makes the decision that will being the most peace for their life.

  4. Excellent response. Along with using the skills from Crucial Conversations, you (Joseph) also addressed an important part of diversity of thought and encouraged the inquirer to see things from different perspectives. This reminds me of a quote from Anais Nin, a French authoress: “We don’t see the world the way it is, we see the world the way we are.” The skills from Crucial Conversations have been woven into a fantastic tapestry of leadership skills that I use innately. Amazing!
    Thank you Joseph, Ron, Kerry, Al, and the entire Vital Smarts team!

  5. I appreciate this article. Someone close to me has a very similar situation with a parent, and I will keep your advice in mind if this person ever decides to reconnect with the parent. (I want that to happen but I’ve accepted that it is not my choice.)

  6. Thank you for bringing great insights to a sensitive topic many of us face, whether with family or at work! It’s never easy to accept people for who they are, but we can accomplish much more by focusing that energy on improving ourselves.

  7. I have witnessed this with several friends. In most cases it appeared to me that some people believe NOT having a relationship with a biological parent is a failure on their part, even if the parent is a horrible person. I told a friend once to ask herself if she would choose to have a relationship with her father if she was not related to him. She immediately said “NO!” So I asked her what she expected to get out of the relationship, inheritance, emotional support, place to live, etc. Her answer was none of those things. She just thought she was supposed to have a relationship with her father because that’s normal. Eventually she realized that continuing to try and have the relationship she wanted was only damaging her and stopped trying.

  8. I face similar issues at work all the time – although not usually with this depth of relationship and history.
    – An employee feels wronged by a manager or coworker.
    – There are hurt feelings
    – They come to HR wanting a range of outcomes from an apology to termination – in other words, justice. Rarely do they come with ‘I want to improve our working relationship.’

    Helping people process their emotions, define the actual outcome they want, and find the words to express those desires, is often really beyond the scope of what we are trained to do, but is often required to get through an event.

    This is where I find the Crucial Conversation skills very valuable, getting people to think about their story, the other person’s story, creating a common purpose and how to create safe space for the other person.

    1. Good point Peter. While opting out of a relationship with a family member you resent may be an option, often at work it is not. I worked for man that initially I absolutely detested because he was a crude rude bigot. He made Archie Bunker look liberal. Gradually over time after several crucial conversations based on his inappropriate behaviors he began to improve on how he treated me and others at work. He may still have held the same beliefs about people based on gender and race but the abhorrent behavior, especially toward me, lessen considerably. So instead of detesting him I came to pity him because it became obvious he was emotionally damaged, and would probably always have social interaction problems.

  9. Great article. To add, it is one thing to take offense at something done against you; it is another to take offense against someone for something they’ve done to someone else–something I learned years ago.

    I wonder if she has had a non-confrontational talk with her dad to find out what his motives were. They may be good. Is mom enabling the brothers and does dad see it this way? Like Joseph said, we don’t have all the details.

  10. I love your logic and the way you articulated these thoughts. I also think you should have told the LW to not connect with her father until she is able to accept him for who he is. She has nothing to apologize for – even if she wishes to connect with him as this man has obviously caused a good deal of pain. I’m afraid she may not separate or fully grasp the concept of the “man he is” from the “man she wishes him to be”. She’s so far gone that I think she needs a bit of a wake up nudge. This is a two step process – she needs to fully accept the man her father is – period. Next, she should decide if she can accept this and if so, reconnect without apology. If not – stop initiating the discussion. If dad wants to come around he will. And if not – she’ll have to deal with the reality and the pain that comes from it and she’ll emerge from it all a stronger and better person.

  11. Thank you for putting this is such simple terms and thought process. Already shared it with a loved one who has been dealing with this resentment for much too long.

  12. I faced a similar decision about my father many years ago. He was not a good father at all, when I was growing up or with me being adult. I am now 51. About 20 years ago, I decided he was never going to a good father because I was judging him against what I considered a good father to be, rather than taking him as he is and making do with the good traits he has and dealing with the stuff I don’t like. I am not saying I tolerate any bad behavior. In fact I had to do some growing up 20 years ago, and get comfortable with disagreeing with him and telling him so and telling him when he did something inappropriate or did something to upset me. I found he respected that would would often apologize or help me understand why he did or said something. Even though I would then understand, it didn’t necessarily mean I accepted the behavior. In those cases, I would tell him understand, but that didn’t make it OK. Over time this has helped us both learn more about each other and be open with each other.

    In the end, part of the solution in these cases is you, the child , taking some responsibility in the failed relationship in that we tend to be afraid to say what we think to our parents. We don’t get that our parents frequently would prefer we be open with them and tell them what we think.

  13. “Do you want a relationship with the person they are today”? Action on the chosen answer will reduce stress. (in my opinion)

  14. Make your choice decisively and take responsibility for it. That is great advice for this particular case (which I think many of us can relate to – thank you First Contact for sharing your story!) and it’s great advice for life in general. Thank you Joseph for this candid and wise response.

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