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Seven Steps to Mending Broken Working Relationships

Posted at 1:43 PM on Sunday, August 24, 2008

Think back on your day yesterday. How many people did you interact with?

  • Via phone
  • Via email
  • Via instant message
  • In a meeting
  • Face to face (imagine that!)

Seriously, make a quick list.

I'm guessing it's a longer list than you might have anticipated.

Some of these interactions were one-off conversations and not ongoing relationships, I'm sure. You also may not have interacted yesterday with some of the more prominent or important people with whom you have a working relationship either (feel free to add those people to your list now).

This simple exercise should reinforce what you likely know, but may not often think about; our work is made up of relationships. And since there are very few things we can succeed at without the help of others, in some ways our success is directly correlated to the strength of our relationships.

Because we are human, not all of these relationships are going to be perfect. Things are going to happen, words will be said and circumstances will be misunderstood. And because of this, if you want to have more success, less stress and more enjoyment in your work (and who doesn't want those things?), we all need to become more skilled at mending relationships when they are broken, slightly wounded or even just fragile.

Here are seven steps or actions you can take to mend, improve and even nurture working elationships (or any relationship for that matter).

The Seven Steps

Decide. The first step is you must decide that you want to improve the relationship. The precursor to this step is recognition - recognizing that the relationship needs improving - but the heart of this is the decision that this relationship matters enough for you to make the effort required to improve it. Without this decision, nothing else matters.

Forgive or let it go. If you feel the other person has done something to cause the rift or break-down, you must either forgive them or let go of your issues with it. Without this step, the steps that follow may help some, but will be limited in their success.

Take ownership. Recognize your role in the relationship, and take ownership and responsibility for it. Yes, deciding and forgiving are accountability actions; but being clear that regardless of the situation you have played a role in the change to the relationship is critical to your success in repairing any damage. Otherwise you are only blaming the other person - which cripples your chance for improvement.

Make your intention clear. Once you have decided to take actions to improve the relationship, your behaviors will change. Take the time to explain your decision and your intention to improve the relationship. Let the other person know that both the situation and the person matter to you, and you want a better relationship. This cements your commitment and communicates your intention to the other person.

Assume positive intent. While I have long believed this concept in a variety of situations, a colleague recently expressed it this way and it makes the idea completely clear. Assume the other person was - and is - acting in good faith. Will you be wrong sometimes? Perhaps. But by starting from this assumption you will immediately change your perception and therefore your behaviors toward that person.

Listen more. We all know how important listening is and how good it makes us feel when we are truly being listened to. Grant that gift to the other person. Listen intently, carefully and actively. Not only will you understand them (and their perspective) better, but they will trust you more and the relationship will build from their perspective.

Make an effort. Deciding is one thing. Doing is quite another. If you want better relationships, you must make the effort - it will seldom, if ever, happen automatically.

In many ways the first and last steps are the priorities, and the other steps are some of the key efforts you must take. Some of these steps may be difficult mentally, and some you may not feel are your responsibility in your situation.

Recognize too that you don't have to do any of them. Be aware, however, that perhaps the step you aren't mentally or emotionally ready to take may be the one that is blocking you from repairing or growing the relationship.

Yes, every relationship is two-sided; yet, each of these steps is completely in your control. Your efforts can't guarantee the healthy relationship you desire, but not taking these steps dooms the relationship to remain at its current level at best.I wish you great success with your choices and the relationships that result.

Potential Pointer: Your working life is filled primarily with the people you interact with - Customers, peers, employees or bosses. By this measure, your ability to create great working relationships is one measure of your ultimate success. It is therefore critical that you learn to build solid working relationships, and actively repair them when/if they become damaged in some way.

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