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Can your relationship grow stronger after a workplace break-up?

Guest post by Brianna Caza, Mara Olekans, and Tim Vogus

Counterproductive work relationships, toxic co-workers, conflict, and relational tension at work are legitimate and sadly common issues in modern workplaces. It is clear—there is a lot about organizational life that tears people apart. But can co-workers come back together in productive ways in the wake of these situations? If so, how?

We scoured the psychological and organizational literature for answers to this question. Our goal was to understand the nature and process of relational resilience—how co-workers bounce back from relational fractures at work. We found evidence of relational repair after a variety of fracture types—negotiations that have gone sour, relational transgressions, and even mistreatment. Based on this work, here are three tools you can use to repair your workplace relationships:

1) Set realistic relational expectations—anticipate breakdowns. Invest in your relationships early on so that when disruption occurs, it does not debilitate the connection you have.

2) Acknowledge and audit emotions. Both positive and negative emotions play a role in repair. They key is to know when and how to use them to create a more positive skew.

3) Work together to understand the breakdown and to put it into the bigger picture of your relational story. It is important to come together to create a mutual understanding of what happened, why it occurred, and what it means—in order to move forward from it. To do this, you must be willing to share your perspective and really hear your co-workers. You may be surprised at how different these initial experiences of the same event are.

We all will face disruption in our work relationships. But there are concrete steps you can take to prepare for relational fracture and to engage your co-workers in ways that may even strengthen your relationships.

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