When Good Working Relationships Go Bad, Part 2

In the first part of this article, we looked at how a relationship with a co-worker can go wrong. Now, what do you do about it? How do you restore that relationship to health?

1. Own up to your mistakes quickly. Do not think time will fix the problem; it will only make things worse. In the absence of correct information, the mind will fill in the gaps – often with incorrect information – making the relational rift wider and reconciliation more difficult. Don’t look to blame the other person or make excuses. Instead, look to your own mishandling of the situation and genuinely apologize for your errors. Don’t point out the other person’s mistakes. Let them do that. Approach this reconciliation humbly and with a teachable spirit. If your first attempt doesn’t completely solve this issue, try again in a week or two.

2. Rebuild trust through over-communication. In a relationship that has been damaged, trust takes time to rebuild. Expect it. Be cognizant of your communication and over-communicate. Be ready for continued mistrust and cynicism.  As you continue to demonstrate consistent communication, the walls of mistrust and cynicism will come down. Go in small steps if necessary, but be strategic about it. Include the other person in the decision making process as is appropriate. If the other person accuses you of some kind of agenda, you can respond in the affirmative. You are intentionally making efforts to repair the relationship.

3. You cannot control the other person’s response. In an ideal world, your efforts will meet with rapid and continued success. However, in the real world, the unknown factor is the other person’s individual reaction to your overtures. If they don’t initially respond to your attempts, have patience. The only person you can control is you.

4. Once you resolve your rift, don’t stop building into the relationship. In any relationship, each person makes a series of “deposits” and “withdrawals” in the emotional bank account of the other person (and yes, even men have emotional bank accounts). Deposits can be encouragement, experiencing a win together, and recognition, to name a few. Every time you engage in one or more of these activities, the bank account grows. Withdrawals are those times you make a mistake. It may be a miscommunication or moment of broken trust. Each time you engage in one of these activities, the bank account diminishes. If you have a lot of deposits, even when you mess up or do something that hurts the relationship, the other person still thinks highly of you.

It may be tempting here to think that it would be so much easier to simply fire the person or otherwise go your separate ways. It may in fact be easier, but not beneficial. Good leaders are hard to find. Great leaders are even harder. The amount of time, energy, and money needed to bring on a new leader is high. It takes time for the new leader to get to know the rest of the team and build trust. Productivity may remain stagnant or even decline when the change of leadership is experienced.

If you cannot, or will not, work through relational challenges, you will only repeat the mistakes. You may hire that next “great” leader who will be the best fit ever for your organization only to find the same pattern of relational discord 6 months or a year down the road. You will find yourself in the same place, although the reasons may be different, facing the same decision to work it out or move on. The choice you make will either set your leadership on a new path or down your current road to relational destruction. The cost for not reconciling the relationship is high; added stress, lost productivity, lost trust by the rest of your team in your ability to lead effectively, high costs in the hiring process, and stalled progress toward your goals.

The cost to reconciling the relationship is also high, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. It will take more thought and energy to work through the issue, but you will become a more effective leader and communicator. You will show your team and organization that you value people and relationships, not just productivity. This will increase loyalty, creativity, and productivity at all levels of the organization. This is the stuff of great leadership, and it comes with a cost. Like anything worth having, the cost is well worth your time and effort.

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