When one teammate steps on another’s toes (to put it nicely), too often it’s our natural reaction to hope for the best without taking the time to fix the issue at hand. I call these “bruised” relationships.
If a bruised relationships goes unresolved for too long, it can end up doubling the amount of stress on your team, creating an unproductive atmosphere. I’ve seen many good, talented people leave organizations over bruised relationships that could have been solved with the proper effort.
If you know of a bruised relationship at your workplace, here are seven proven steps to repair that relationship and get back on track to building a productive, cohesive team.
- Immediately admit your misstep. John Gottman, PHD, a noted pioneer in relationship assessment and management research, tells us that the worst thing a person can do is to “stonewall” and simply hope that the misstep will be forgotten and thereby forgiven. The very opposite is true. When you realize that a person has taken offense, immediate acknowledgment that a miscommunication has occurred sets the stage for the relationship to withstand and grow stronger.
- Communication in person or, at minimum, by phone is critical. Communication specialists tell us that person-to-person communication yields about 95 percent of the intended message. Moving to the phone drops that communication value to about 67 percent. The written word (email and text user beware ) drops communication value to 32 percent. When rebuilding a damaged relationship, stay away from the written word. There is simply too much at stake not to seek to hear and be heard through voice communication.
- Never discount the feelings of another person. Nothing acts to add insult to injury faster than saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Any time you diminish the feelings of others or attempt to discount that those perceptions matter, you are adding to the relationship breakdown. Simply acknowledge the feeling exists, express your regret, and get on with repairing and strengthening for the future.
- Resist being defensive. If you have failed to show up for an appointment, complete an assignment, follow through on a commitment, or any other issue, the last thing people what to hear is your excuse, no matter how good it is. Instead, immediately declare your error and simply say, “I am so sorry that my actions have impacted you in a negative way. How can I make it up to you?” Having a sick child at home, a flat tire, a fight with your spouse are all good excuses, but they ring hollow. This can be especially offensive in email communication where your “reasons” for failure come across clearly as defending your action, or lack of action.
- Never blame others. It is very easy to use the excuse, “Barney didn’t get the material to me, and that is why I didn’t get my piece done.” Work very hard not to use this strategy. It may make you feel better, but it does not work to accomplish your goal of repairing a bruised relationship.
- Seek a solution together. By now, you are realizing that assertive communication is a key ingredient to repairing and moving on in your work together. Be assertive in asking, “What can I do to fix the problem?” Be ready to listen and respond with strategies you both can agree upon. Get agreement to a revised plan to get you back on track.
- Remain alert to continued rebuilding. Gottman, mentioned above, identified in his research that it takes five positive interactions to offset one negative relationship experience. By continuing to be clear in communication, not over-promise, take responsibility, and follow through you will earn chips in the “relationship bucket” that you can use should you misstep in the future.
Relationships are continually evolving. Being self-aware and considering how your words and actions are going to land when you sling them out into the world of your fellow board members, fellow staff, or fellow teammates can go a long way. By stepping with thoughtfulness you can avoid bruising relationships altogether.
Margaret J. Sumption is a 35-year veteran in association, government, and nonprofit leadership. Educated first as a special education teacher and school counselor, Sumption holds certifications as a Mental Health Professional (LPC) and Senior Human Resource Professional (SHRM-SPC, SPHR). In her business, Sumption & Wyland, Margaret has worked for 26 years nationally in board development, governance, strategic planning, teams training, and conflict management. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and trainer. In addition to her work with organizations, Sumption also supports an executive coaching practice assisting executives to build their leadership influence and meet professional goals.