Three Steps To Repair A Broken Work Relationship

Repair Broken Relationships

You know the person I am referring to.  Whenever you work with them, things never go smoothly.  It doesn’t matter what you do, you never get what you need and then you hear it’s your fault.  If you never had to work with them again it would be too soon!

Have you ever experienced a situation like this?  Things have gotten so bad, it’s not just business, it’s personal.  Sadly this happens far too often and now many employees are working remotely it happens more often.  These are difficult, challenging situations and fortunately we can take steps to resolve them. More on that in a minute.

I don’t know of anyone who comes to work with the intention of upsetting fellow employees and making everyone’s life miserable.  So if we come to work with good intentions how do we end up with these massive breakdowns in trust?

Why Do These Breakdowns Occur?

The most common source of breakdowns in any organization is misalignment of expectations.  Every person in an organization has a set of well defined expectations about how the world around them should be.  These are often stored subconsciously but they are there, guiding how we interact with others and what we expect from them.  Problems occur when the other person’s behavior doesn’t meet our expectations.  It gets worse when it happens again, and soon enough we believe they must be doing it deliberately to upset us.  Nobody could be such a jerk by accident.

We arrive at this conclusion quickly.  Usually without considering if our expectations are realistic, and that’s assuming we even know what they are.   Things are worse for the other person because we haven’t told them what our expectations are.  They are supposed to know ‘because any reasonable person would act this way’.

Does this sound familiar?  It should because these kind of breakdowns are inevitable.  We don’t go through life telling everyone around us what our expectations are.  If breakdowns are inevitable, we need to focus our attention on managing them so we learn and repair the breakdown, building trust in the process.

Three Steps To Repair Broken Relationships

We recommend a three step process to unpack, resolve and learn from breakdowns.

Step 1:  Declare the breakdown

This involves communicating with the other person to highlight what isn’t working.  How we do this is vital.  If we begin by accusing, things will escalate quickly.  We start by creating a context of shared care that describes what we are trying to achieve together and why it is important to both of us.  From here we can describe the situation that shows we are not achieving that outcome.

Step 2:  Check expectations

We start by describing our expectations of what would happen.  We are not doing this to show we are right, instead we are sharing our expectations transparently to gather feedback.  Are we aligned or not?  Most often our expectations are unspoken and the breakdown is immediately revealed.  Occasionally, we have discussed our expectations and believed, wrongly, we were aligned.  This typically occurs when we assign different meanings to important words.  For example, ‘I’ll get it to you as soon as possible’.  What do we mean by ‘soon’ and ‘possible’?

Entering Step 2 with a mindset seeking to understand and not to be right, will likely uncover any misalignment of expectations.

Step 3:  Assess Performance

Sometimes we find we actually are aligned on expectations, and yet a breakdown still occurred.  This happens when we have different interpretations of what ‘done’ or success looks like.  You may have heard the term ‘fetch me a rock’.  Each time a rock is provided it is the wrong shape, color, weight, size, etc.  This occurs because there isn’t a shared understanding of what success looks like.  The key in Step 3 is to check alignment on what success looks like and assess what has been done.  What will it take to achieve the goal?

Following this process openly and transparently, you will uncover and resolve the biggest breakdowns.  This will help you and your team move forward and perhaps more importantly, it shifts the focus onto the process and away from the person.  We use this 3 step process with our clients, and you can download a copy with examples of how to have this conversation, at the link below.  And who knows, you might even get to view breakdowns positively, as opportunities to learn.