Managing difficult work relationships and the Communication Gap

Work relationships can be one of the most difficult dynamics we will ever need to navigate. As opposed to our personal relationships, we often do not have the luxury of picking and choosing whom we work with, who is in a team or who a company employs. Therefore, if communication difficulties or negative dynamics arise it can be a tricky balancing act to manage without causing friction, negativity, poor individual and team/company performance, unhappiness, poor wellbeing and mental health, high overall costs and a high turnover.

However, with every difficult relationship emerges the opportunity to build effective and respectful professional relationships which can flourish and even lead to better performance, productivity, communication skills and increased professional confidence, clarity, happiness, individual and company wellbeing and overall a reduced costs and a reduced turnover.

So how can you start to build, manage and encourage these types of relationships?

Stay calm 

When friction, tension and heated conversations emerge the best thing to do is to stay calm and to encourage each other to pause and to take a long breath. If this isn’t possible, you need to communicate the importance of the matter for both of you, communicate boundaries and calmly suggest you meet at a different scheduled time when emotions are not running high and everyone has had time to feel refreshed and to take a different perspective.  It may even be effective to suggest to those involved to then take a 5-10 minutes break so that when they return to work they do so with a clearer and more productive mindset for now.

Understand what the real issue is

Be clear about what the issue is from all sides and then confirm this understanding with the other person and from each side. Sometimes we may think we know what the issue is or we are swayed by our own subjective emotions, experiences or opinions but we can often be mistaken and assumptions can often lead to distrust, disappointment, unhappiness and can add to the spiral of the issue in hand or can cause other issues.

Listen to each other 

To be given the space and time to be heard and seen can be more powerful than you think! This means avoiding the need to butt in, becoming defensive or to communicate with fear, frustration and anger. Space and time means space and time!

Ask them which 1-3 important points they’d like to discuss and what they now need.

Really listen to what the other person is saying and do so with open mindedness, a confident but relaxed body posture, a calm tone of voice and good positive eye contact.

Communicate your understanding and show respect for their point of view 

Often people listen to the other person but then jump straight into being defensive. However, it’s imperative the other person understands they have been seen, heard and understood and therefore communicating this is an essential step to repairing and building a positive relationship. Pick up on 2-3 main points that they have just discussed and communicate this from an understanding perspective.

Calmly communicate your position

Now it’s your turn. Again it’s imperative to ask the other person to afford you the time and space you have given to them.  Then calmly communicate your viewpoint, experiences and position. Consider what 1-3 main points you’d like to communicate and what changes you need.

Communicate to each other‘s strengths and values.

When we validate someone else’s self worth and value they are far more likely to feel encouraged to perform well feel and engaged. So what 1-3 strengths and values can you communicate to each other? Start with ‘I appreciate your…..’

Where is there room for improvement? 

Acknowledge and reflect back to each other where there is room for improvement and what needs to positively change from both sides. Then communicate why you need the changes and what results you need.

Meet halfway

Discuss what actionable steps you can realistically take together. Break down the goals onto smaller achievable steps and agree to review at a scheduled later date.

Review 

A review is not only there to ensure  you are both taking those steps, but also to discuss any positives experiences or challenges so that you can continue to work together and move onwards and upwards.