What to Do After an Uncomfortable Conversation with a Co-Worker

By Harvard Business Review
July 16, 2019

What to Do After an Uncomfortable Conversation with a Co-Worker

When you find yourself in the aftermath of a discussion gone bad, follow these steps to salvage the relationship.

We all experience conversations that lead us to regret our words and elicit negative reactions from colleagues, prompting a negative spiral that can seem hard to reverse.

Here are five steps for remedying a conversation gone wrong:

brainstorming-3503419_960_720ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR MISTAKE: Arrange a meeting with the other person. Acknowledge what you did wrong, then say you’d like to discuss the incident to figure out how to avoid the negative behavior in the future. Give your colleague space to process what you’ve said. When you promptly call out your mistake, your co-worker will see you’re willing to work on your weaknesses.

APOLOGIZE AND BE GRATEFUL: After apologizing, thank your colleague for her good intentions. Be specific: “I’m sorry I interrupted you and never gave you a chance to finish presenting your idea. Thank you for bringing new ideas to our meetings.”

HIGHLIGHT THE OVERALL GOAL: Don’t dwell on the conversation that went badly. Work together to identify a common purpose that you’re both motivated to achieve.

CREATE SHARED CUES: Strategize to avoid future mishaps. For example, give the other person permission to alert you in some way if you find yourself getting heated during a meeting.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE RELATIONSHIP BANK: Regenerate trust and accelerate the healing process by asking for and providing small favors. By requesting your colleague’s help, you make yourself vulnerable and demonstrate that you value her contributions. And when you provide help or favors, you build mutuality — a precursor to trust.

Copyright 2018 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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