mind your business: Healing a Broken Relationship at Work
A broken relationship at work is a lot like a broken leg. It can make you avoid certain places or take a different route in and out of your office. It can dominate your conversations with friends and make your loved ones wish you would just shut up about it. Broken work relationships make you less productive and tempt you to overdo the "pain medication," despite the dangers it can bring.
Unfortunately, the risks of not treating your broken relationship are also like having a broken leg. It can become an ever-increasing problem or infection. It might change how you act in the future, making you a bit gun-shy and eager to avoid another broken leg. The broken relationship might even wear you out emotionally and physically, so much so that you just want to escape, even if that means accepting a job offer for less pay.
You might go back and examine how your leg or relationship became so broken. Thoughts like "What did I do so wrong?" and "How could this happen to me?" might float through your head. But how it broke isn't nearly as important as how you respond.
Healing a broken relationship requires you to leave your comfort zone and "put some weight" on the relationship. While we don't have the benefit of a doctor to prescribe a fast cure, here are six ways to move recovery along.
1. Choose to Heal
Your ultimate success depends on how you approach the situation. Decide if this thing is going to heal and get better or if it is going to be a pain forever. The choice is completely under your control and it matters which option you choose.
Some won't listen to any advice, even from professionals. They don't believe the relationship will get any better, so they won't try anything. They stick to complaining as their only "therapy."
But healers work toward a solution. They try things and ask for advice. They refuse to accept that the future has to look like the present. They believe.
2. Avoid "Compensatory" Behaviors or Work-arounds
Those who don't believe a relationship will get better start to work around it. In medicine, such activities are called "compensatory behaviors," because the patient is "compensating" for the deficient limb or process. This can be a problem. First, it puts extra strain on the other parts of someone's life, and long-term problems can develop in the relationships that have to bear the extra weight. Second, compensating behaviors don't allow the original broken relationship to fully heal—they simply hide it.
3. Use Crutches and Other Aids Temporarily
On the other hand, doctors do prescribe crutches and other aids when damage initially occurs. It is not unreasonable to keep weight off a relationship for a bit while the anger subsides. But remember that doctors prescribe crutches so you can still function normally—not so you can avoid putting weight on the foot altogether. Life goes on despite our broken relationships. The proper temporary aids, like having a third co-worker present, or alerting a boss to keep things operating smoothly, are allowable, but only temporarily and in extreme situations.
Other temporary aids might include compliments and extra "thank yous." Think of these as adding ointments or Icy Hot to a broken leg. They don't heal it from the inside, but they do ease the pain and make it more bearable as the real healing happens.
4. Put It Up at Night
Medical doctors often recommend putting a broken leg up at night. This helps the healing process and can be thought of as "draining the blood out of it." The same thing applies to broken relationships—you need to drain the blood out occasionally. Many a close friend and partner have wished a loved one would put a broken relationship out of mind. Stop picking at the wound. Think of it as allowing your subconscious to work on the problem while your conscious self gets some time off. Either way, put it up at night. It will heal better if you don't worry constantly.
5. Exercise It as Soon as You Can
Like a broken leg, every broken relationship demands exercise and real use. This is the scariest part for most people. What if it hurts? What if it doesn't feel exactly like it did before it was broken?
Try to go slow at first. Listen for when you might be pushing too hard and then ease up a little. Still, waiting too long can be a big mistake. Avoiding pain is a built-in characteristic of all humans, but sometimes the difference between success and failure is just the difference between succumbing to our natural human tendencies and climbing above them.
6. Find a Way to Trust
Did you know that a healed broken bone is often stronger than the original bone? The biological processes that stitch bone back together produce stronger bones than the originals. The same is possible with broken relationships.
Consider this: in life, accidents happen—miscommunications, misinterpretations. Bumped and bruised relationships are inevitable.
But fundamentally, people are scared and insecure to some degree. They worry other people won't like them, or that people are out to get them. They worry that they can't predict what other people will do, or that bad things will come their way unexpectedly.
The best human relationships eliminate these fears. A good friend will not purposefully hurt you, and will act in ways you can predict. This is trust.
Our relationships at work require the same thing. We need to do things to communicate to people that they can trust us—that we won't "act out" and purposefully hurt them, even when we feel bumped or bruised. We also need to demonstrate that our actions are understandable and normal. They can be predicted—even when we might have a "right" to act out. These two things help people trust us. And a healed relationship is one where there is trust.
By Erick Lauber, Ph.D.
Erick Lauber, Ph.D., is an applied psychologist and faculty member at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He speaks and consults on leadership, personal growth and development, and taking charge of our own life stories. He has won 19 educational TV/film awards and has published in numerous psychology journals and book chapters. His video log is located at www.LifeFraming.org. For more information, visit www.ErickLauber.com or call (724) 464-7460.