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The Art of Starting Over

By: Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas
Posted: August 29, 2012, from the September 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Either way, smile. This easy strategy goes a long way toward smoothing any ruffled feathers. More than words alone, a genuine smile that reaches the eyes can evoke a powerful visceral response. It shows that your intentions are pure and, when people realize that, the vast majority are willing to give you another chance.

When you start over, really start over. You don’t have to actually leave the room and come back in, but draw a sharp dividing line between the bad conversation and the new one. A good way to reset is to ask the other person a question and draw her back into the conversation as an active participant. It could be something as simple as: “Can I ask—how have you been thinking about this?” or “Let’s step back for a second—can you share your view of the situation?”

Of course, starting over isn’t just for the workplace. It can work just as well to defuse a budding argument with your spouse, a family member or a friend. It’s a bold, gutsy move to restart a conversation from scratch. Yes, it feels awkward. Most people are not accustomed to swallowing their pride, admitting in real time that they screwed up and asking if they can make it right. But the next time a conversation goes wrong, try it. Not only will it salvage the moment, it will also pave the way for a more authentic and productive relationship in the future.

For 30 years, Andrew Sobel has worked as both a consultant to senior management and as an executive educator and coach. His articles and work have been featured in a variety of publications such as theNew York Times, Business Week, and the Harvard Business Review.