Work relationships often settle into routines. We develop dynamics with people and reinforce them over time. In healthy relationships, those dynamics include communication, honesty, respect and collaboration. But sometimes our relationships are stuck in a less than ideal place. Even when everyone conducts themselves professionally, feelings such as tension, irritation, or resentment may arise – on your side or theirs.
As a leader, it is up to you to repair your own dysfunctional relationships and coach others on the team do the same with each other. You can stop reinforcing unhealthy interactions, pave over the ruts, and start fresh.
Stop, Look, And Listen
Choose a work relationship that you want to make better. Think about situations where the friction arises. What types of interactions bring out the discord? What are you working on? Are you asking for something? Being asked for something? Is there a particular project, time of day, or topic that triggers the dynamic? As you work with the person, what is their body language and tone of voice saying? What about yours?
It Takes Two
It takes two people to create a dynamic; one of you acts, the other reacts. You can assume that you are setting off a reaction in your colleague as much as they are in you. So during this exercise make sure to apply your powers of observation to yourself as much as to the other person.
Don’t Make It Personal
Remember that the person being “annoying”, “defensive”, or “unreasonable” is coming from their own context. They may be acting on different priorities than you, reacting out of an insecurity, or dealing with issues you are unaware of. So step away from the emotion and any personal reaction you have.
Instead, listen to what they’re saying from a business standpoint. There may be valid issues being expressed within the muddle of emotion. By stepping back, you will be better able to hear what is really going on.
Zig Instead Of Zag
Write down what you have noticed. Identify what circumstances, words, attitudes and actions put you and the other person at odds. This should give you a pretty clear idea of how and when you generate unhealthy interactions with each other.
Then… break the pattern. The next time you interact with the person, ditch the old dynamic and react differently. If you usually act with irritation, try patience and listening; if the other person stonewalls you when you walk up to their desk, try arranging to meet ahead of time and provide context for your interaction. You may ultimately decide that you need to work on skills such as communication, listening, or conflict resolution in order to make your interactions more comfortable. But the fastest, most effective way to get started on repairing your relationships is to simply change it up.
Then, keep it going. If you understand what is occurring but continue to engage in the same stale behavior, you will get the same stale result. By reacting differently, you are diverging from the script you have followed with the person in the past. This is how you break the dynamic, refresh your relationship, and get back to business.