Good leaders are constantly cultivating and managing relationships with people at work. Anytime a relationship is strained, damaged or broken, they need to address the problem as quickly as possible. So how can you tell when a relationship has become broken? These are the most common signs:
It’s hard to have an honest conversation: When relationships are in trouble, it becomes difficult to have a normal, honest conversation. If we try to start one, the other person will refuse to engage, or become defensive or combative. They don’t want to hear from us nor talk it out. Maybe they have been so hurt that they can’t handle it.
There’s a lack of trust: When relationships begin to break down, suspicion creeps in. People begin to question our motives. Maybe they feel a sense of injustice or lack of fairness. Whatever trust was originally there begins to deteriorate.
There’s a lack of passion to continue the relationship: Eventually people stop putting in any effort to build back the relationship or to make it work. If we manage to get with them, they are mentally or emotionally withdrawn from us. Even if we’re with them, we’re not relating to them.
When seeing these signs, we should try to repair the relationship. That doesn’t mean trying to get it back at all costs, but to do it with integrity. Below are some of the steps to do it.
1. Initiate fixing the relationship with them: If we have a great relationship and it starts to get strained, it’s our responsibility as leaders to be the first to try to mend it. Invite the other person to lunch or coffee for a talk. That doesn’t mean it always pay off but it’s hard to rescue a relationship if we don’t take the responsibility for initiating.
2. Give them the benefit of the doubt: If there’s hope for helping a relationship come back, the conversation goes better if we’re open and willing to take the blame. Assume we’re on the wrong side by asking: “Have I offended you? Is there anything I can do to make amend?” If people are willing to talk to us what we did, there’s a chance to repair the relationship. Even if what we did wasn’t wrong, we should still apologize for what hurt them.
3. Be willing to walk the second mile: Leaders need to be quick to say “I’m sorry”. We need to be willing to make needed changes. That’s part of leadership. Nevertheless, we can’t always determine the outcome of the attempted reconciliation. There will be times when no matter how much effort we put in, the relationship is never the same as it was before. We should not be held hostage by that. We have to accept that, as leaders, we have the responsibility to be a good steward of our team or organization. We cannot allow our personal feelings of not wanting to hurt somebody keep us from doing what’s best for the organization.
There are many relationships worth saving, but many cannot be saved. We have to be realistic about the relationship and do our best. But sometimes we have to accept that it cannot be saved. We have to be secure in our leadership and give ourselves permission to have a different relationship from what we had before. We might still value the person, but we let them go.
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