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How to Repair a Damaged Work Relationship

Posted by Louellen Essex on December 11, 2014 in Change Management, Communication, Managing Difficult Situations

We’ve all had encounters with co-workers that didn’t go well, yielding lasting negative consequences. The resulting tension in the air makes communication awkward and productivity often wanes. Realistically, some relationships are easier to repair than others, since you can’t force reconciliation. Making a sincere attempt to restore a damaged relationship, however, has a good chance of success if you follow these guidelines.

Address the issue.
Avoiding the other person won’t improve the situation. Break the ice by initiating a conversation in an attempt to clear the air. Say that you are aware of tension between the two of you and you would like to talk about it. Explain what has happened from your point of view, giving specific examples of incidences that have created conflict. Listen carefully to the other person’s viewpoint to understand what went wrong. Ask clarifying questions and stay off the defensive.

Apologize, if you are at fault.
If your behavior was the cause of the harm, own up to it. An effective apology begins with a clear statement of what you did that was inappropriate. Follow that by sincerely communicating your regret. Your humility may be just the thing that saves the relationship from further decline.

Make a commitment to start anew.
Indicate what you are willing to do differently. In turn, ask your colleague to make changes you believe are necessary to improve the interaction. Then, ask what s/he would like you to alter. Negotiate differences if you or the other party is unwilling to comply with the requests. Keep an open mind, looking for solutions that can be workable for each of you. Agree to let go of what went on in the past, forgive, and start fresh with your new commitments as the guideposts for your relationship.

Rebuild trust with consistency.
In order to truly improve the relationship, it is critical that you follow-through flawlessly on the agreements you made. A slip-up soon after the conciliatory conversation could create a major set back, limiting the willingness of the other person to again make peace. On the other hand, you hope to see the same consistency in you colleague’s behavior in order for the commitments you made to remain stable. Be careful, however, not to overreact to every nuance of behavior that could be interpreted as a return to the old pattern.

I*ncrease communication that changes the dynamic.*
Spend more time with your colleague, creating a pattern of more positive and productive communication. Stop by the office for a chat. Extend an invitation to work with you on a committee. Have coffee together. Give more praise for work well done. Begin to create a trajectory of successful interaction to override the problems of the past.

Repairing a damaged relationship takes time. Recognize that wounds don’t heal overnight and that both you and your colleague must see behavior changes in each other that are sustainable. Hold the course you agreed on and, with time, you may find even an enemy can become a friend.

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In these times of rapid change, leaders can never stop learning.”

Dr. Louellen Essex