How to Repair a Professional Relationship

Repairing a relationship at work isn’t easy, no matter how trivial the issue seems. However, ignoring the issue or letting feelings fester can be damaging to the relationship. What’s more, not resolving the conflict affects your productivity by distracting you at work and preventing you from being able to work successfully with the other person. While addressing the conflict head-on may sound intimidating, try the following tips to ease yourself into the process.

Make an honest assessment of the conflict. When you’re in a calm state, take time to reflect on the situation and be honest about your role in what happened. Could you have read an email too harshly? Remember that communication without nonverbals can be easily misconstrued. Could you have misinterpreted the other person based on your previous experiences or assumptions? Conflicts can stir up deep emotions and fears inside of us, so it’s important to make sure you weren’t triggered by a past experience that doesn’t have anything to do with the other person. If you are having a hard time seeing where the situation went wrong, picture the conflict from the other person’s point of view and imagine how your actions and words might have been perceived. 

Don’t ignore it. Acknowledge the conflict, even if you don’t have to interact with the person with whom you had it frequently. You never know how the incident might affect your reputation or organization. It is always a good idea to meet the person face-to-face (whether in person or on Zoom) so that you can use your nonverbal communication as well to show your sincerity. If that isn’t possible, try to schedule a phone call so at least you can hear the inflection and tone of your voice, as opposed to just communicating through email or text messages.

Prepare. If talking about the conflict makes you emotional or angry, then rehearse what you’d like to say in advance so that you’re as calm as possible in the moment. Anticipate any response you know is coming, so that you can think of your response without being too emotional in the moment. Prepare for a conversation, rather than a battle, visualizing a positive, harmonious outcome. Your goal is to make amends with the person, not prove you’re right or make them apologize.

Listen with an open mind. Once you’ve shared your side and taken responsibility for any shortcomings you may have exhibited during the conflict, allow them to speak their mind as well. Listen without making judgments, and seek to understand their point of view. If you’re still unsure about where they’re coming from, ask clarifying questions in a supportive, curious tone– not a critical one!

Find Common Ground.  Try to find things on which to connect, rather than disagree. When they’ve finished explaining their side, you can connect with those similarities by saying things like, “It seems like we both felt misunderstood in that meeting,” or “I understand because I felt frustrated about the deadline too.” This HBR case study shows how effective finding a common goal or experience can be in resolving conflict.

Compromise. Discuss ways you can work together and move forward. Even if you think the other person is completely at fault, offer a compromise to show that you’re trying your best to move forward for the sake of the relationship. Most people do not want to be in arguments either, so they will likely be willing to compromise and resolve the conflict as well. Ensure that you live up to the compromise you made and that your actions are consistent with your words.

Healing a relationship doesn’t happen overnight, but the benefits of trying to repair the relationship are well worth the effort. While it may seem easier to ignore what happened, addressing the conflict directly will give you the best chances of repairing the relationship and allow both parties to move forward in a constructive way. In addition to removing a source of distraction and stress, healing your relationship will improve your productivity because you’ll be able to work better with the other person, as well as strengthen your ability to resolve conflict in the future.

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