Advice | May 26, 2016 9:00 am

How to Fix a Busted Work Relationship

Unburning bridges is a skill every good networker must know

So you screwed up at work recently.

Pissed off your boss. Let down the team. Accidentally let the office weasel out — which ended, predictably, like this (then this happened).

Even the most honest, thorough and mindful among us will inevitably make mistakes that lead to strained relationships with peers or superiors. Leaving these issues unaddressed can adversely affect team dynamics and workplace culture, and even lead to your eventual dismissal. And that’s definitely no joke.

In the wake of a screwup, is a sincere mea culpa enough? How about when you’re part of a team? And how do you recover from repeat failures or underperformance? Is there such a thing as too much when trying to rebuild a work relationship?

We spoke with acclaimed life coach Kute Blackson to get his take on mending a break.

“One of the most impactful experiences that we have, where we spend one third or half of our lives, is our work environment,” he says. “People that we work with are no different than people in romantic relationships or family relationships, as they are going to teach us a tremendous amount about ourselves.”

His thoughts …

Face the truth (honestly)
It’s important that you acknowledge and be honest about where your relationship is currently at and why it’s strained. Many times when we don’t face the truth, we spend so much time in our minds creating a fantasy and making all sorts of assumptions about the situation.

Be ready to communicate
A lot of people are afraid of having communication for fear of conflict or making a situation worse. But when you can clearly state that your intention for communication is to improve the relationship, it can help the other person not go into defense mode or feel attacked. This creates a space where they will actually listen to you. 

Allow your co-worker to share their thoughts
It’s important that not only you share, but you also give the other person the opportunity to share. Put yourself in their shoes and make them feel heard. This is your part. You ultimately have no control of the other person’s part. The hope is that by taking responsibility and being a leader, you’ll inspire the other person to do the same, so you can work towards a common, productive goal.

Take responsibility
That’s a sign of maturity and leadership. No human being is perfect. There has to be space to make mistakes. But taking ownership is key because it shows self-awareness and builds trust.

Address chronic issues
If you’re chronically failing or underperforming, it’s important for you to look at why. Ask yourself questions: “Is it that I don’t have the skills for this position? Am I uninspired or not motivated, and I’m actually in the wrong job or project? Is there a part of me that is consciously or unconsciously upset and sabotaging the project?” Usually when there’s chronic underperformance, there’s either a simple reason — which is that you don’t know what you’re doing — or there’s something deeper going on that needs to be addressed.

Rebuild trust through actions
You must have a sincere communication with the person on the other side, and deliver an apology that accepts responsibility for the pain or consequences you’ve caused the person, team or organization. And then you need start showing up consistently to rectify the situation over time. Otherwise, you cannot expect someone to trust you completely: they won’t and you don’t deserve it. It will take time.

Images via 20th Century Fox