Article: Repairing strained relationships at work

Employee Relations

Repairing strained relationships at work

Conflict, though has a negative connotation attached to it, isn't necessarily bad, if it is used as a stepping stone to understand the people around you better.
Repairing strained relationships at work

Conflict has been one of the few constants in the human history. By the virtue of how we understand things around us, humans are wired to differ with each others’ thoughts and opinions, and express this digression in various ways. Conflict, though has a negative connotation attached to it, isn’t necessarily bad, if it is used as a stepping stone to understand the people around you better. 

As many of us can attest, conflict or disagreement, which eventually takes a toll on relationships, cannot always be pinned down to individuals. Many a times, the situation and circumstances, miscommunication, or even unintentional transgressions can result in conflict.  Since our work constitutes a big part of our life and identity, we often face similar situations in our career, where certain episodes or situations result in our working relationship with our bosses, juniors or colleagues going sour. The context of the problem might change, and activities like covering up mistakes, gossiping, making personal information public, being overly critical, taking credit for someone else’s work, or rejecting other’s ideas might eventually lead your co-workers to have a difficult working relationship with you. Shutting out people you don’t get along with is arguably the path a majority of people choose, but is neither advisable nor practical, if the said people are working with you in close proximity. 

Repairing a damaged professional relationship takes more effort and intent, than time. If you too find yourself avoiding certain colleagues in office, due to a certain incident in the past, here’s how you can begin to relieve the stress from your strained connections, and walk towards normalcy: 

Think it over

Having a clear understanding of what the situation is critical before you jump into firefighting mode. So, ask yourself, what caused the tiff, how serious are the implications, what is the extent of the damage, what was your role, what would be the best approach to take the first step? You need to first be sure of what went wrong, how it went wrong, and what the recovery options are. 

Let the emotions settle down

If you’ve walked out fresh from a confrontation or been cast to the sidelines in an important meeting, do not go back clarify your stance, or take hasty decisions and send vague emails. Since you are already defensive, and your mind if agitated, you are likely to do more damage, and pick up arms.  Give yourself and the other person some time to gather and collect your thoughts, and schedule a meeting with them at a convenient time to resolve the issue. 

Address, not confront

When the time comes for you to take the first step, do not go with the intention of confronting the other person, but neutrally addressing the problem, and presenting your viewpoint. Remember, the confrontation – verbal or non-verbal, direct or cryptic – has already happened. It is likely that the other person assumes that you are extending the conflict, and hence, clarify your intentions about resolving the same beforehand.  

Take responsibility

Despite your best and honest beliefs, the fact is that, it takes two to tango, and maybe your actions or even, inaction had a bigger part to play than you realize. It might not be your fault completely, but that doesn’t mean you cannot take the responsibility of repairing the stress in your working dynamics. Imagine this, if we all assume that we are correct, and the other person is wholly responsible, aren’t we all at fault somewhere? 

Communication is key

How you approach the other person(s), what you choose to address and how you do it is essential. The conversation must be free and open, without raised voices or heightened emotions and without people ganging up on each other. The idea of this redressal is not to see who was right or wrong, but to look forward and put the problems in the past. If you genuinely want to improve the situation, give up being right, even if you think you are. Very importantly, listen to what others are saying with an open mind – as listening constitutes half the process of communication. 

Formulate preventive measures

An agreement must be reached between the concerned parties to implement measures which will prevent the rise of a similar situation. Address the core issue: communication, cooperation, support or feedback and work out a mechanism to make it better and stick to it. Making sure that professional relationships stay intact and friendly, especially after they have taken a hit will take consistent effort and intent. 

In the face of danger and conflict, we generally take the route of fight or flight, both of which are momentary solutions, and only avoid the real challenge in a strained working relationship. You don’t need to be close friends with everyone you work with, but you need to maintain a cordial rapport with them. Maybe the people you work with are truly difficult and a descendant of Satan, but using that as a reason to give up will do you and your career damage. At the end of the day, you need each others’ support and help to get work done, and you never know which one of your colleagues might lend a helping hand in times of distress. Furthermore, having a stress-free work environment will do everyone good, and if a small effort from your end ensures that, it is worth a shot.

How have you repaired broken professional relationships? Let us know!

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Topics: Employee Relations, Life @ Work

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