If it’s broken, fix it, goes the adage. But when workplace relationships are broken, fixing them can be a delicate matter. Many of us are ill equipped to know what to do when unresolved conflicts, tensions and bad feelings linger at work.
There is a tool we can use to remedy workplace grudges. It’s a communication skill called “immediacy” and it allows workers to fix damaged workplace relationship no matter what the cause.
And it is important to fix them. Allowing interpersonal problems to fester at work can lead not only to emotional issues but also health issues such as headache, insomnia and an inability to concentrate. What’s more, productivity is reduced and performance compromised. People stop communicating properly and the workflow is interrupted by tension and discord.
What is immediacy? It is the ability to discuss a problematic workplace relationship frankly, openly and immediately with the person who is part of it. It means being able to talk about what might be happening between yourself and another person while the interaction is occurring.
There are two types of immediacy, according to psychologists: Relationship immediacy and Here and Now immediacy.
Relationship immediacy refers to conversations about problems that arise in an otherwise well-functioning relationship. Rather than allow disruptive shifts to go unnoticed, talking to your colleague about changes you observe can help air concerns and misunderstandings.
Here and Now Immediacy
Here and now immediacy refers to discussing problems as they unfold. Discussing what is going on as it occurs can be better than ending a meeting and wondering what was the matter.
Instead of allowing the situation to fester or take on a life of its own, immediacy can provide workers with an option of clearing the air quickly and repairing or redirecting a derailing relationship.
There are four components necessary to crafting an immediacy message that has a chance of changing an impaired or damaged relationship:
1. The Impact
When discussing a relationship that has gone sideways, it’s important to articulate the impact on you. For example, if you have formerly enjoyed a collaborative relationship and you are currently having trouble completing tasks, tell your workmate. You may say something like, “Lately, I haven’t been getting things in on time and I feel like I’m letting the division down when this happens”. Let your colleague know the effect the relationship breakdown is having on you and your ability to get the job done.
2. The Discrepancy
It is key to point out the difference between what used to be the case in the relationship and what is the current standard. For example, you may say, “We used to work really well together when we shared what each of us was up to and how long things were going to take. I liked that way of working especially since I was able to gauge how long things were going to take. I’ve noticed lately, though that we haven’t been talking as much and we aren’t as open with each other about time lines. As a result, I haven’t been getting things in on time and I feel like I’m letting the division down.”
By pointing out how things have changed and the impact on you, you are embarking on a conversation that may right a balance or lead to a discussion that gets to the root of the matter.
3. The Description of Your Part
Take a look at the role you may be playing in the relationship distress. How might you be contributing to the issue in a small way? Be honest with your self-appraisal and tell your colleague. “I may have been difficult to reach lately myself, so I understand if it’s been hard to communicate with me because I’ve been distracted. I’d like to change the situation and go back to our more frequent check-ins”. By taking responsibility for any changes in your behaviour, you signal to your boss or workmate that you are willing to look at what you may need to fix to get things back on track.
4. The Relationship
Be sure to use words like “we” and “us” when talking about the situation. By commenting on the importance of the relationship in this way, you provide a message that the working relationship is important to you and worth preserving. You might say something like, “We’ve worked together a long time and up until now we’ve communicated really well. It’s important to me that we continue being a successful team and I’d like to talk about how to ensure that we remain connected and working together well. Is that okay with you?” It’s key to ask your colleague for permission to talk about the relationship to ascertain his or her willingness to engage in a frank conversation.
If a problem occurs during an ongoing interaction, include the four components in your message. For instance, if you see your colleague stifle a laugh and that makes you feel dismayed, you may say, “I’d like to pause a second Before we continue with our meeting, could I just ask you about the little laugh? It bothered me a bit. We’ve been pretty open with each other and I’m wondering what you were thinking. Maybe I’m reading something into your reaction, so I thought I better check it out, okay?”
By nipping workplace tensions in the bud, employees and bosses can keep the channels of communication clear, create a tension-free workplace and enhance productivity, performance and employee psychological health.
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.