The 5 Keys to Fixing Broken Relationships at Work

I work with executives, owners, and managers—high achievers and highly motivated individuals. Such people and personalities clash at times, especially in intense, high-octane business environments.

These types of challenges are normal.

But when a fractured coworker relationship exists for an extended period, it ultimately affects team and company performance. The time has come to face the issue or suffer negative personal and performance consequences.

How do you restore derailed relationships that are mission-critical yet to the point where the parties involved are now avoiding one another?

1) Sincere Desire to Make It Better
I have to make sure that both parties want to restore the relationship. You could certainly say that's a foregone conclusion. Because the issue has already negatively affected performance, each party knows things need to get back on track. But I want to make sure there is a sincere desire to restore this relationship—outside of performance. I don’t want the relationship to be forced. It won’t work that way. Nobody wants a working relationship that's unhealthy or broken. Most people prefer to get back on track and have more fun at work.

2) Discover What Happened
Next, we've got to figure out what's going on. The discovery process is simple. I talk with each individual one-on-one to hear their side of the story, their perspectives, to understand what rubs them the wrong way, if you will, about the other person and how they operate. Usually we will have several one-on-one conversations before the three of us have our first conversation together. During the discovery conversations, it is important to understand a couple things:

  • the current state of the relationship,

  • how it got there (from both perspectives),

  • the desired outcome,

  • the consequences of maintaining either a broken or a healthy relationship.

3) Take Ownership
Once the full story is visible, the three of us will have our first conversation. Before this conversation occurs, I have prepared each party to take ownership of specific behaviors that have contributed to the erosion of the relationship. Because we're not going to spend much time debating past issues, each party needs to be willing to essentially say, “Listen, these are the things that I did that took us down a bad path and contributed to the erosion of our relationship, and I apologize for that." As we rebuild this relationship, we’re going to spend our time identifying any triggers and blind spots, and discuss ways to create healthy communication and behavioral habits that will create momentum for each individual and their respective teams.

4) Rebuild Teams
After the relationship has been restored, the next priority is to ensure each leader’s team has healthy relationships with the other leader’s team. Some relationships may need to be rebuilt across both teams. Unfortunately, when you have a broken relationship between leaders, you're going to share that brokenness with your team—intentionally and, sometimes, unintentionally.

5) Focus on Sustainability
The process going forward is focused on sustainability. We incorporate the process of checking in once monthly for three to six months to ensure the relationship continues on a healthy productive path. A set-back is expected from time-to-time, but adding this check-in step creates visibility, accountability, and a little extra guidance designed to ensure each person is living up to their commitment of assuming the best and treating each other with respect and compassion even when they have differing perspectives or even a conflicting point of view. During each check-up call I have two simple requests:

1) grade the health of the relationship over the last 30 days, A through F, and

2) provide one suggested improvement for the other, based on the last 30 days of interactions. The grade is important because “stories” (about how things are progressing) can be misleading at times. So I always ask, "Give the last 30 days a ‘relationship heath grade’ before we start telling stories.”

Restoring Coworker Relationships Requires Intentionality

We human beings can go dark pretty quickly if we're not intentional about being positive and proactive when it comes to restoring relationships. This often requires a mediator who can help people productively communicate through the hard stuff. It's important not to do what so many people do naturally, which is lean away from conflict. It doesn't feel good, so we step aside, and we do what I refer to as a drive-by. We just drive by that situation, and we don't address it; so, it lingers and people suffer.

When your people suffer, performance suffers.

Getting individuals to work well together, realize their full potential, and achieve performance goals—this is what makes good companies great.

Do you have some relationship challenges that need to be addressed? You can see my client results on the testimonial page.

You can email me at, or book a meeting with me from my contact page.


Phil Mydlach

Phil Mydlach is a high-performance executive coach who shows people and companies how to break through to their next level of ability, growth, and performance. He partners with them as they lean into their edge to confront the fears that are holding them back.

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