Professional relationship turned sour? How to turn things around.

Skyeteam leadership Development

None of us achieves success alone, and the world of work is probably the biggest team sport any of us will ever take part. Yet, sometimes it feels like we’re playing on opposing teams with the people we’re supposed to be working alongside.

We’ve all worked with—and in some cases, hired—people we dislike, find irritating, or are frustrated with. There’s the client whose ego is so large the office has to install double doors to get their head through; the employee who can’t stop talking about anything other than work; or the colleague who carries the weight of the world on their shoulders and seeks to share their complaints with everyone.

On the other hand, you’ve probably experienced professional relationships that embody the partnership approach. Perhaps someone went out of their way to help you to succeed while collaborating and sharing information to achieve individual and business goals.

 

REALITY CHECK—PAY ATTENTION TO THE WARNING SIGNS

Strong, winning relationships with the people we work with don’t happen by chance—and neither do ineffective ones. Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s better to pay attention to the warning signs and course-correct before a relationship is beyond repair. Here are a few warning signs things are going off the rails with a critical working relationship:

  • Your emails or phone calls are not being returned in a timely fashion
  • You find yourself attending meetings by phone rather than spending time in the same room as the other person
  • You become aware of watercooler conversations that may have been started by the other person
  • You find yourself following up and checking in on commitments because they promise one thing, but deliver another—or are consistently late
  • When you see their phone number or name pop up in your inbox, you groan and roll your eyes
  • Other people ask, “Is everything okay between you and so-and-so?”

If you are paying attention when a relationship dynamic starts to change, you can then take action before relations become damaged beyond repair.

DO YOUR PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIPS NEED NURTURING?

Take a minute to write down the three critical goals you must achieve in the next few months. Next to each goal, write down the names of the people who can directly influence—either positively or negatively—your success in achieving those objectives.

  • How would you describe the health of your relationship with them today?
  • Is the relationship healthy and focused on mutual success, like with an ally?
  • Alternatively, is it better characterized as tense, adversarial, and challenging?

If you realize you’re in a relationship gone sour, don’t panic. You can turn this around. Whatever the reasons are for why you find yourself where you are, you owe it to yourself to make the first move to effect change.

Here are five steps that will help you to cultivate winning relationships:

1. Go beyond the transactional. Seek out opportunities to get to know the people around you as people, not just at the transactional level of “Can you do this for me …?” or “Hello, how are you?” You may be surprised at how much of a difference taking the time to ask a few questions and listen to their responses takes.

2. Make time for coffee. Relationships are built—and destroyed—one conversation at a time. Find a neutral location—whether it’s coffee, lunch, or a walk around the block—and start the conversation that effects change.

3. Change your perspective. Empathy can be a critical skill in turning around a troubled relationship. Without empathy, we tend to paint ourselves as the victim and the other person as the villain. This limits our options. Put yourself in your adversary’s shoes, and ask yourself how they might describe the situation. A change in perspective can offer alternative actions to turn things around.

4. Be an ally. You can’t afford other person to “see the light” and change. You have to choose to go first, even if your actions aren’t reciprocated. I am often asked, “How do I know if so-and-so is my ally?” My response is it doesn’t matter. The first question to answer is whether you are being an ally to them.

5. Focus on the future. It likely took some time for your relationship to turn sour, so don’t expect it to transform overnight. This is not the time to carry baggage from the past. Let go of the past slights, and forgive—yourself and them—for the missteps that have brought you to this point. Focus on the end goal and be consistent in how you present yourself to the other person, and in following through on your commitments to make a positive difference.

Finally, stay in the game. If necessary, change your game. There is so much at stake for you and your team. After all, business is personal, and relationships do matter.