Making a fresh start in difficult relationships

Many of us have hit the ground running with the start of the year. Some of us are coming back to workplaces with very positive and supportive working relationships. But others are coming back to strained relationships and ongoing conflict.

Given the goodwill that tends to be present at the start of the year, if you are dealing with challenges at work, can you use some of this goodwill to make a fresh start in these relationships?

Hopefully, you haven’t just choked on your coffee. I really am serious here about the need for action, especially if you are going to stay in that workplace.

I assure you that ongoing difficulties or unresolved conflict will, over time, certainly impact on your health, well-being and performance.

There are also the costs that flow onto other team members and service delivery when colleagues are not getting along, particularly if they are long-serving members of staff or in a leadership role.

There are lots of different ways to close the distance in a difficult working relationship.

You can take small steps, of course – simply saying hello if you have been avoiding that person, following up on an earlier positive conversation (about their children perhaps), empathising with their challenges, thanking them for some assistance they gave, or agreeing with them at a team meeting.

You might have to have low expectations. While most people reciprocate small acts of kindness, some have to work on this, particularly if they are carrying hurt or frustration from the past.

Either you wear them down, returning meanness with kindness. Or perhaps a larger step is needed.

Here I am referring to finding an opportunity to acknowledge that things have not been easy for both of you over the past year, offering a genuine apology for your part or how your behaviour came across, before expressing a genuine desire for a fresh start for the coming year.

Obviously, helpful actions are needed as well, preferably from both of you. Here, it is important to keep the focus on the future, discussing what you will both do to help, rather than debating the past. But do keep the focus on your own behaviour, acting in ways that are seen as helpful by the other person as this is the only part you can control.

Things rarely go smoothly, of course. It is unusual, I think, for difficult relationships to be resolved from a single conversation. Plans often need to be revised and fine-tuned, over time. 

So, what’s it going to be? More of the same? Or making a commitment to a fresh start in your working relationships? Will you take small steps, a big step, or do both?

While I can’t guarantee that if you change, the other party will as well. But I can certainly guarantee that if neither you or the other person changes, you are certainly going to get more of the same.

Someone needs to be the adult here. And it may as well be you.


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