How to Fix a Broken Work Relationship

Two men in business attire face away from one another in a barren land.

The guy who never responds to your emails. The woman who shuts down every idea you pitch. The boss who’s always late to your one-on-one meetings. Difficult coworkers aren’t always difficult in the same way, but your working relationships always impact your job satisfaction and ability to get things done. Need to fix a work relationship gone bad? Try these four steps:

Check Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself)

Examine the situation and your reactions. Do you tend to always have problems dealing with a particular type of communication or behavior? Be honest with yourself about how you might be contributing to the problem and brainstorm ways to avoid your triggers. If you’re hyper-organized and have a colleague who is never prepared for team meetings, you might avoid frustration by emailing a call for agenda items before each meeting as a reminder, or you might try starting each meeting by reviewing notes from the previous meeting together and following-up on any outstanding projects. Try seeking advice from a friend or colleague outside your department who can offer an impartial assessment of the problem and help you brainstorm solutions.

Stop the Negative Talk

Once you’ve got a clear idea of where your work relationship is going sour, the first step in fixing the problem is re-establishing trust. Get in the habit of speaking positively to and about your coworker, and cut out negative talk and office gossip. When you’ve spent months (or years) annoyed by your coworker’s mistakes, it’s easy to get into the habit of looking for faults, missteps, and judgments to pass. Challenge yourself to recognize the good work this person is doing (there has to be at least one thing they’re doing right), acknowledge it, and say thank you. You’ll be surprised how much negativity can be diffused just by reinforcing the positive things that happen at work.

Get Real

One of the best ways to build positive work relationships is to share more about yourself and get to know the other person better. After you’ve built that initial bridge, look for shared interests and opportunities to participate in activities outside work. Going to lunch or happy hour together can spark new ideas and help you become real friends. You’re more likely to be responsive to emails and requests when you remember there’s a person counting on you to finish those expense reports before she leaves for vacation. Invite other colleagues along when you socialize and give the whole team a chance to form bonds outside the office.

Be Consistent

Don’t stop working on this relationship once you’ve reached a neutral ground. Continue working on your interpersonal skills by focusing on teamwork and offering help and support where you can. This may not stop your coworker from being an overachiever, but if you’ve formed a strong bond outside of work, it’s more likely that both of you will be more inclined to compromise and work together. Make your colleagues feel valued by sharing information and resources, and don’t be afraid to offer them the opportunity to participate in new projects that can help you establish a closer connection.