How to Repair a Damaged Relationship at Work

We have all encountered people that seem impossible to work with.  We keep hoping that they will somehow get transferred and move far away from our workplace.

But if you are serious about becoming a positive leader and role model in your organization, you have to demonstrate that you can restore and maintain difficult relationships at work.

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Whether dealing with your coworkers, supervisors, or subordinates, strong professional relationships are essential for career success.  Broken relationships cause tension for everyone.  The entire office usually knows who you don’t get along with.  It may be obvious that you avoid that person or no longer share information with them.  This doesn’t reflect well on your character or help the business.  It’s time to turn things around.

  1. Start with an apology.  Apologizing is the most healing, restorative gesture you can make.  And I don’t know a single leader that hasn’t had to apologize at some point in his/her career.  An apology acknowledges that a mistake has been made, there is an intention to change, and that you care enough about the person to restore the relationship.  Making an apology will cost you nothing but your pride.

    Keep it simple:  “I’m sorry.  We seem to have taken a wrong turn in our relationship.  I want to try to do better in the future.”   Don’t add anything else.  Don’t explain it.  Don’t complicate it.  Don’t qualify it.  Don’t dilute it.  When it comes to apologizing, get it over with as quickly as possible.

  1. Eliminate the negative.  If the conflict has continued for some time, others have probably gotten used to you venting your frustration about this person.  At the very least, they have witnessed some nonverbal cues that you are not pleased.  An eye roll here or there does not go unnoticed in a meeting.  Stop the negativity immediately.

    After your apology, you must move beyond expressing anger, resentment, and hostility toward the other person.  When others try to get you upset again, simply say you are working to improve that relationship and move on.  Repeat this message as often as necessary.

    Now that you have said you’re sorry, you actually have to behave differently.  You need to change the perception that you can’t get along with this person.  And it’s a lot harder to change other people’s perceptions of your behavior than it is to change your behavior.  The public disclosure of your intention will actually help to hold you accountable for your actions in the future.  People will be watching to see if you are making progress in this area.

  1. Look for common ground and create shared success.  Find an opportunity to collaborate with this person as soon as possible.  I recommend a small project where you won’t feel the need to dig in your heels about the outcome.  Don’t fall into old, negative patterns.  Actions speak louder than words.   If you don’t change the way you interact with one another, it’s all a waste of time.

    Be willing to compromise to ensure a positive win here.  Recognize that you’re both on the same side.  And remember, all you need to create is a professional partnership, not a friendship. You can act friendly without becoming best friends.   A working relationship should be polite, civil and productive. You should be able to work together and get things accomplished.  Research shows that shared success, no matter how small, can enhance the feeling of cohesiveness.

Keep in mind that the process of redesigning the relationship and rebuilding trust may take a while. Don’t expect everything to change overnight. But if both people are willing to make an effort, things will gradually improve. 

positive leadership, toxic leadership, leadership development, leadership styles, leadership skills

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4 Comments

  1. Mizraim says:

    I already had the apology conversation & we were doing good for a couple of months until i suggested something in a group email this person got defensive cc my boss & it went downhill from here

    • I’m sorry to hear that things have taken a bad turn again, Mizraim. It’s never a guarantee that the other person will reciprocate and reconcile. You noted that some progress was made with your initial conversation so that is good news. Continue to do the right thing (on your part). You may have to do the right thing a long time to get results. I’ve seen it work many times!

  2. Rituranjan Goswami says:

    Bull’s eye…these are exact things that I have implemented very recently and glad to inform that I believe this has worked.

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