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What do you do when your work friends have let you down?

Over the past two weeks, we have highlighted why we should become friends with our colleagues and how we can become friends with our colleagues. Sometimes your work friends, just like any other friends, can let you down, disappoint you, cause dissension among the group or even betray your trust.  What happens then? Can your friendship recover? Can your team recover?  Well….it depends…

Here are 4 initial steps to take when you have a work friend who has let you down.

  1. Schedule a meeting.  One of the best things you can do, even though it is REALLY hard when you are struggling with a relationship, is to schedule a meeting with that person. In most circumstances, if this colleague really is a friend, it’s best to meet in a one-on-one setting that is conducive to dialogue. Similar to some of the “hows” in developing a friendship, when dealing with a challenge in your friendship, take some time to have lunch or coffee/tea or ice cream. ?  Ideally, this is in a neutral setting that allows you to have a constructive and productive discussion.
  2. Make a Plan.  Take some notes ahead of time about what you would like to discuss during the meeting. Develop a list of questions and try to get specific on your concerns and challenges.  Think through what you would like to accomplish at the end of your meeting and how you want your friendship to be restored (if possible).
  3. Listen closely. Again, similar to the “hows” of developing a friendship, addressing a challenging situation is best done when we ask good questions and listen closely to the responses. Perhaps there is something really challenging happening in her life or maybe he is feeling completely overwhelmed by his current workload.  As a friend, try to get to know more about the context and the story. As you know, I’m a big Stephen Covey fan and he really says it well when he reminds us to Seek first to understand, then be understood.
  4. Be honest AND kind. Once you have listened to her story and have a better idea of what might be going on in his life, spend some time being honest, yet kind about how you are feeling about the challenging situation or circumstance.
  • I recommend beginning with something that is affirming and supportive of the other person. You can say something about how you value her friendship or you appreciate how he has been a faithful supporter of your team’s project.  Find something that you can honestly and authentically say that is positive about your relationship.
  • Then, be clear, specific and direct about your struggle. Whenever possible focus it on yourself (use “I” words rather than “you” words) to help keep the other person from becoming defensive.  I have felt left out of recent team discussions that impact the direction of the project or I feel like my input on the topic is not valued or I was unaware that there was a new funding opportunity that is a perfect fit with our work….
  • Finish the conversation with more affirming and honest language that shows your value for the other person and your friendship. You can say something about how you appreciate that he was willing to take time to talk about this or that you are grateful that she is willing to communicate so openly.  Again, make sure it’s authentic and applies to the situation.  This can also be an opportunity when you develop some next steps and follow-up. I’m thankful for our friendship and I would like to schedule another time for us to talk in the next two weeks.

Will this work to restore your friendship?  As I said in the beginning…it depends…The best way to know it will work is if both of you are open, communicative and receptive to learning from one another and listening to one another.

So what about you? Are there other things that have worked for you when struggling with a work friend who has let you down?

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Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

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