Whether dealing with co-workers, superiors or subordinates, your strong professional relationships are essential for career success. Unfortunately, if you're not careful, these relationships can be damaged by miscommunication, conflict and a variety of other common circumstances.
So what's a professional like you to do if and when your workplace relationships take a nasty turn? Follow these six steps to fix the problem and 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 be like? Remember, this is a professional partnership, not a friendship. You don't 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 the 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 conversation.
- Don't gang up on the other person. Connecting one-on-one will usually create a less defensive, more comfortable tone to the discussion.
- To make sure that the conversation actually happens (and doesn't get pushed to the side), ask to schedule a meeting.
- 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. Get commitment. Create an alliance with the person. Recognize that you're both on the same side. Make sure you both see the vision for the future of your relationship and that you agree on what you want. Identify some specific actions that will change this relationship. What are you each committed to doing to improve the situation? What are you each committed to NOT doing?
Then, create a verbal contract. Emphasize the value of this promise you're both making. This isn't about simply "saying" you're going to do something. You both have to follow through for it to work.
5. Be consistent. Consistency is the key to success. Remember that actions speak louder than words. You can talk about this stuff all day but if you don't change the way you interact with one another, it's all a waste of time.
Don't fall 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 this person to address it with you? And vice versa: If THEY don't follow through, how will YOU address it? Talk about this up front 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 everything to change overnight. But, if both people are willing to make an effort, things will gradually improve.
6. Be proactive. Don't just let your professional relationships take shape on their own. Don't wait until problems come up to address these things. Be proactive about developing strong relationships early on.
Remember that people can't read your mind – and likewise, you are not a mind reader. You have to establish the "rules" of the relationship in real terms. It's important to be intentional and upfront in how you do this.
Additionally, define your boundaries in clear, understandable terms. Remember, if you let others set your limits, you won't like where they end up. And you can't blame others for pushing you past your limits if you haven't communicated what they are.
The next time you realize a workplace relationship has soured, follow these six steps to sweeten it up again.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.