7 Tips for Managing a Strained Relationship with a Team Member
Workplace conflict is inevitable. Because we work in environments where there are others
with different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs, it's only natural that colleagues
would bump heads with one another. And these interactions can feel uncomfortable.
The most recent data on this topic is from 2008, but the results are telling. CPP,
now The Myers Briggs company
CPP Global Human Capital Report
and their study of workplaces across the globe found that 85% of employees at all levels
experience some type of conflict. They also found that employees spend almost three hours
a week dealing with conflict.
So, you're not alone if you're wondering how to manage that tense moment with your co-worker.
And fortunately, there are ways that you can navigate this interaction to ensure you can still
be productive and have a good working relationship with your colleagues.
Here are some tips for managing and repairing a strained relationship with a team member.
Put the Focus on Ideas…Not People
Sure, it's easy to get caught up in the team member's personality with which you have the
dispute. However, it helps to change your perspective. While conflict never feels good,
it can help to realize that you disagree about your ideas and beliefs and not who each of
For example, let's say you want to look into a software system that a colleague disagrees
with. At the outset, it may look like the person is being a barrier just simply for the
fact that they don't see eye-to-eye with you.
However, it helps to dig a bit deeper to see why they believe the way they do. You may
find out that this colleague has limited knowledge of the software system and is nervous
about understanding it and integrating it into their workflow. Now that you know the idea
behind their apprehension, you can then create a plan to hear and address their concerns.
Determine How You Both Best Communicate
Communication is a source of conflict for many. According to a stat from Gallup,
of U.S. workers strongly agree that communication at their company is accurate, timely,
and open. That's a staggering piece of data that reveals that most workers don't feel that
communication is clear, and as many of us know, a lack of clear communication can lead to
One of the best ways to get on the same page with a colleague is by determining how they
best communicate. Much of this is tied to a person's personality. For example, your strategy
for dealing with a colleague may be to quickly ask for an impromptu face-to-face meeting,
whereas that person may want to schedule something at a later date so they can prepare their
No one is wrong in this scenario, but setting the stage for communications is crucial so
that you both can have an open dialogue about the situation and come from an equal playing field.
A possible way to handle this situation could be to inform your teammate that you want to
speak with them and ask how they would like to proceed. From there, you both can have a say
in setting up a time and place to speak that benefits both of you.
Prioritize Meeting Face-to-Face
Written communication is all the rage now with programs like Slack and the continued use of
email. Nevertheless, some communications may yield better outcomes if they're face-to-face.
Research has revealed that
55% of communication is nonverbal
Whether through upper body movement or a facial expression, so much can be said inaudibly.
For that reason, written communications don't always convey what people are trying to say.
Therefore, if you see that a situation is tense, whether on a workplace chat system or in
person, try to schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue.
If an in-person meeting isn't possible, try to arrange a video call. Doing this will ensure
that you can pick up on nonverbal cues that add even more nuance to the discussion.
Know When to Involve a Mediator
It's great to try to handle conflict with a colleague on your own, as it gives you both
an opportunity to understand where the other person is coming from and ensures that a third
party doesn't muddle the messaging.
Yet, there are times when a conflict may escalate to needing a mediator.
This person could be your boss, an HR professional, or even a conflict resolution consultant.
While this may not be the first step you take, it's important to remember that this is an option.
If you have had a communication breakdown and no one is speaking to the other person, or if
the dialogue has gotten intense, it may be time to bring someone in to help reopen the conversation.
Use "I" Statements
It's crucial not to associate blame when you have conversations with a colleague. Try to talk
about how you were impacted by the situation and focus on how you feel instead of any conclusions
or judgments you've made about the other person. This step can help create a neutral ground where
the other person doesn't feel blamed or attacked.
It also isolates the action from the person and may help you both see how your actions impacted
the scenario and prevent each of you from feeling defensive.
Also, if there is something that you did to contribute to the situation, take accountability.
There's nothing wrong with admitting if you made a mistake, as the goal here is to start at a
place where you both can solve the problem. For a look at examples of "I" statements, check out
from Relationships Australia, an organization that offers support for those looking to maintain
Remind the Other Person of the Big Picture
There's a reason why companies have a mission and vision. Not only does it convey to customers
and other stakeholders who the company is and what they stand for, but they are also rallying
statements for the team.
It may help to remember that both of you have the same goal — supporting your clients and
customers. While you may differ on how to do that, your purpose is likely still the same.
Therefore, bring it back to the core of your project team, and start to discuss how resolving
this conflict can impact the work you do and the customers you serve.
This step may not be applicable in all circumstances, but it can create a point where you
both see value in resolving the conflict and how the resolution can develop ideas that further
benefit the team.
For example, using the scenario discussed earlier, you may determine that your colleague's
apprehension about the new software tool is warranted after you've done some research and
noticed it had a poor usability score.
This new information causes you to look into something else and thank the colleague for raising
the issue. Not only did you manage the conflict, but you likely prevented a disruption in your
Sometimes, workplace conflict can get intense, and there are times when personal feelings
can get the best of us. It's normal to feel angry and need to express this emotion.
However, there are ways to do it that won't negatively impact your relationship with your
teammate or damage your reputation. If you need to vent or get out your emotions, try to do
it outside of the office, with a friend or family member.
The last thing you want is for a vent session to get back to the colleague and further strain
Strained Relationships Don't Have to Be Forever
All of us will have to manage conflict at one time or another, and it's normal. Nevertheless,
you want to make sure that you and your colleague are handling your disputes in a way that
moves the conversation forward.
Remember that you and your colleague are on the same team and that a resolution is beneficial
for you, your other colleagues, and your entire company.
Again, you all likely want to accomplish the same thing, just in a different way. Build
on what you have in common and work to solve the problem.
Communicate Better With Employees, Regardless of Where They Work,
CPP, Inc., Acquires UK-based OPP,
How Much of Communication Is Nonverbal?,
How to use 'I' statements instead of 'you' statements during difficult conversations,
Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness it to Thrive,