4 Steps to Repairing Workplace Relationships

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Saturday was Valentine's Day and hopefully spent time with your significant other or with those that have a special place in your heart. 

But, I want to talk about another kind of relationship – the professional one with your co-workers that goes largely ignored and unaddressed. As with any relationship, this one goes through 4 phases:

  • the "honeymoon" period when both put their best feet forward
  • the stage when they settle into a comfortable routine
  • a spell when one might take the other for granted
  • and finally, that day when a breach of trust or the lure of something better has one or both questioning, "Is it time to break up?"

Unfortunately, when conflict happens, many of us try to disengage – to avoid the person around the office, or limit our exposure to them. That's a fine strategy if your colleague is peripheral to your daily life – how often are you going to see that co-worker from the San Diego office anyway? But if it's your supervisor or teammate, ignoring him or her is a losing strategy. What's a professional like you to do if and when your workplace relationships take a nasty turn? Follow these 4 steps to get things back on track.

1. Acknowledge it. The longer you ignore relationship issues, the worse they tend to get and the harder they are to resolve. Look the problem square in the eye and ask yourself a few questions:

    • What caused the damage?
    • What was/is your role in the situation?
    • What have the consequences been?
    • What are the future consequences if you don't resolve the problem?

2. Visualize the alternative. What do you want this relationship to look like? Remember, this is a professional partnership, not a friendship. You do not have to be friends, but you can be friendly. A working relationship should be polite, civil, and productive. You should be able to work together and actually get things done.

Take some time to clearly define what you want from the relationship. What will be different if and when this relationship improves? What are you willing to compromise to create that positive outcome?

3. Communicate. Once you have that vision for the future relationship you want, it's time to communicate that vision calmly and honestly with the other person. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you do so:

    • This conversation should take place in private so both parties can speak freely. If possible, make it a face-to-face discussion.
    • To make sure the conversation actually happens, schedule a meeting and stick to it
    • As best you can, remove emotion from the discussion. Don't get personal. Instead, focus on the productivity of the team and your desire to make your work together more effective.

4. Be Consistent. Consistency is the key to success. Remember that actions speak louder than words. You can talk till your blue in the face, but if you don't change the way you interact with one another, it's all a waste of time.

Don't fall back into old, negative patterns. Build in a structure for how you will handle it if you do. If you aren't following through on your commitments, how do you want the other person to address it with you and vice versa. Talk about this upfront so you have an action plan.

Remember that this is a process of rebuilding trust and redesigning the relationship so it can take a while. Don't expect things to change overnight. But, it both people are willing to make an effort, things will gradually improve.

Every workplace has times when staff relationships are less than perfect, but if we all take the time to clearly understand the dynamics of the relationship – and commit to making changes to what's not working – the more likely it is that there will be positive results, such as higher productivity, retention, and employee satisfaction.


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Guest January 22 2018