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September 12, 2019 Peggy Liu

Tips on how to mend tense work relationships

There’s no doubt that having positive relationships improves productivity and inspires more creativity and learning.

As many entrepreneurs and business owners know, building and maintaining positive work relationships plays an important part in a business’s success. Many companies now seek to hire people who share in the organization’s values and vision and are able to work as part of a team. So when it comes to the relationships we have in our professional lives, it’s ideal to make sure they’re healthy to encourage better morale and collaboration

The relationships you have may be different depending on the nature of your business, but like the actual business itself, they all require some level of attention and effort to ensure they’re running smoothly. While it’s ideal to have positive relationships with everyone we work with, it’s inevitable that interpersonal challenges will arise at some point. The best way to rectify any problems is to adjust our behaviors accordingly, and a good way to start is by paying attention to any “micromoves” that we, as well as our colleagues, may not be aware we’re making. 

Micromoves are the tiny and seemingly inconsequential actions that keep our relationships evolving. They can be positive or negative and as small as saying (or not saying) “thank you” to a colleague who held a door open for you. The key is to watch out for the negative micromoves; if left unchecked over time they will lead to bad habits that will create tension in relationships — which then will affect work performance and mental health.

When you sense any tension or problems rising in your work relationships, consider these six tips to get them back on the right track.

1. Put yourself in their shoes

Empathy is the greatest tool in repairing any relationship. Once you understand the other person’s perspective, it’s easier to get clarity on the problem that needs to be addressed and for both parties to find a workable solution.

2. Self-reflect

It’s human nature to search for external reasons why something isn’t going the way we want them to, but sometimes we do play a role in our problems. Perhaps adjusting your own perspective or behavior might be enough to mitigate any stress you feel in a particular relationship.

Don’t let the situation get to this point.

3. Practice vulnerability

Sometimes, the only way to mend a relationship is to be honest about what’s bothering you. Personal confrontations can be scary when emotions are involved, but speaking with the other person truthfully about any issues within your relationship demonstrates you have good intentions for you both moving forward.

4. Commit to fixing the problem

After you’ve had a conversation and agreed to work on the relationship, consistent effort is necessary for positive change on both sides. Agreeing on a solution and holding each other accountable will be needed to reach a positive working relationship. Think of it as you and your coworker (or client, employee, etc) versus the obstacle in the relationship instead of you versus your coworker. 

5. Avoid the either/or mindset

It’s easy to think a situation is either good or bad when you’re feeling a certain way. However, labeling an entire relationship as good or bad can be misguided when relationships are made up of so many parts. For example, maybe you really like your coworker but you feel as if you have opposing ideas for a certain project. When you feel any tension building up, focus on improving the area within the relationship that is causing stress instead of viewing the entire relationship as negative.

6. Don’t take things personally

Our egos have a funny way of making everything about ourselves. Unless there is genuinely disrespectful or toxic behavior being directed towards you (which you shouldn’t tolerate), most micromoves aren’t done intentionally. That being said, if someone said or did something that bothered you, letting them know is the most effective way to nip any mounting tension in the bud.

Work relationships play an important role at all points of our career journeys. Whether you’re just starting a business or are an established brand, there’s no doubt that having positive relationships improves productivity and inspires more creativity and learning. The key is to remember that relationships are always evolving and require a mindful approach to ensure they’re evolving in the right direction.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.