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Repairing Relationships in the Workplace

by Janine Taylor-Cutting

Helping employees and colleagues to manage conflict and mend relationships is a very important part of being a business owner or leader.

Many people admit to being terrified of conflict. At the first sign of a disagreement, they run the other way. Some fly head-on into strife, wielding their words, body posture, and stance like a mighty sword. Others simply avoid addressing issues, hoping they will disappear on their own.

Working with human beings means there will be disagreements, misunderstandings, and sometimes full-blown conflict. The methods you employ to deal with interpersonal issues in your business or workplace will directly affect culture, employee satisfaction, and productivity, so it is paramount that you handle these issues thoughtfully.

1. When something is brought to your attention, make sure you take the time to plan how to address the issue. Do not wait for something to blow over. Chances are, it won’t—and your employees will be left managing a difficult scenario, nursing hurt feelings, or carrying resentment.

2. Speak to each party privately in a neutral manner to get a sense of what their take is on the situation. Repeat back what you hear them say: “So this what I’m hearing. . . .” This will let them know that you are truly listening and trying to understand their point of view.

Please note that if someone has been harassed or injured in some way, you should not bring both parties together. You have a duty to investigate and deal with the issue in the proper manner. Here is a link to the provincial guidelines for developing a harassment prevention plan for employers.

When in doubt, consult with experts in this area to find out what to do next.

3. If you have determined that the issue at hand is a manageable interpersonal problem and the individuals involved agree, set up a time and place to meet. Make sure to choose a private location where there won’t be interruptions. Aim for a time when they will be able to rest after the meeting, in case emotions are running high. This kind of work is draining, and returning to work right away may be difficult.

4. Set up the meeting in a structured manner. You can say something like, “We are here to discuss a disagreement that has arisen between you both. I hope we can work together to find a solution and make everyone feel supported.” Give each person a couple of minutes to state their concerns. Don’t allow interruptions.

5. Restate what you are hearing from both sides and allow each person another chance to add to the conversation.

6. Find some common ground. You may say something like, “Even though your ideas are quite different, I can tell you are both concerned about finding the best way to move forward with the project.” Allow the people to meet on this common ground. At this point, people can begin to work together to find a solution or to repair any harm that was done. Sometimes the individuals involved may not find a way to agree, but with your help they will find other workarounds or set boundaries that they can both uphold.

7. Recognize that having a chance to be heard is extremely impactful. Voicing one’s concerns in a controlled setting may help dissolve tension. When people feel that their ideas and thoughts are valued, they become more open to working together to find solutions and ways to move forward. Entering this type of situation in an organized, calm manner helps model respect and openness in your work environment.

Clearing the air can bring a sense of relief and happiness, and this type of meeting may end with laughter. Supporting our colleagues and employees through distress and disagreement can be one of the most difficult——and most fulfilling——parts of our work.

Janine is a counselling therapist and owner of Valley Counselling & Therapy in Grand Falls–Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador; she is also a blogger, a cancer survivor, and a patient advocate. Janine loves spending time with her husband and three teenage children, walking her dogs, and reading.

You can view her blog by visiting her website at

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