What You Need to Know About The Cost Of Broken Relationships At Work-and How to Fix Them

“I waste so much time dealing with people. Managing them and their issues takes up most of my day, and keeps me from getting any real work done.” If you’ve thought these thoughts or heard yourself say them out loud, it’s because you’re human.

You’re also suffering from misalignment. And as you know, misalignment is a performance killer. The worst part is that this performance drain is a two-way street–it’s slowing down your employees and their work, too.

The time loss that results is staggering, and it’s the single greatest issue preventing us from meeting our goals and growth targets.

As leaders, we often forget (or fail to consider) that our employees are having a mirror image experience to ours. If we’re distracted and upset, they know it, and it makes them distracted and upset. You can see how misalignment compounds across an organization to be a huge drain on productivity.

How do you know if you’re misaligned? One obvious clue is the occurrence of “the meeting after the meeting.” You sense (or know) that employees are talking to each other, swapping stories, and stirring a big pot of frustration and resistance. And they feel entitled to it because, in their minds, they’ve been wronged. They’re feeling misunderstood, unheard, or stuck.

It requires a series of structured conversations focused on understanding the underlying beliefs and (re)building trust.

The underpinning of this approach is a belief that all employees want to do a good job. This is true even if they don’t like you (their boss)–or even if they don’t like the work. Another belief key to this approach is acknowledging that all employees want you to know them, care about them, and take the time to help them. That’s it.

The distractions and time-consuming rework, meeting proliferation, and behind-the-scenes complaining can be reduced or eliminated completely by getting alignment between what you want and need and what they want and need. It might be hard to imagine, but there always is common ground here. You just need to invest some time upfront to find it.

First, know if your relationship breakdown is primarily with one person or a group. If it’s a group, there is likely a self-appointed leader. Identify who that is and start there.

  1. Get clear through coaching or journaling what assumptions and judgments you have about this person. You do this not to share this all of this directly–that would be disastrous. Rather, it’s to build some self-awareness about how you might be coming across.
  2. Reach out to the individual to schedule a time to talk. This is rarely a “one and done” kind of conversation, so come in with the assumption that you’ll be meeting with this person again before too long. Before the meeting, get clear in your mind about how you want to show up. Set your intention to be open and curious, rather than judgmental.
  3. Lead by asking questions to understand the other person’s perspective and experiences. Going in with an agenda or simply restating your expectations will result in taking a step back–more angst and swirl, more distractions, and more time lost. This upfront relationship rebuilding conversation should be roughly 90 percent of them talking to a mere 10 percent of you. You’re here to listen.
  4. Conclude by agreeing to think about what was said and heard and plan to get back together to talk about options and next steps. Then follow up.

Solutions will emerge out of increased understanding and empathy that naturally comes from open, honest, judgment-free conversations.

All relationships are a series of conversations and interactions. Upping performance for yourself and your organization requires you to embrace this role and deal with any issues head-on.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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