Fixing a Work Relationship Gone Sour – Amy Gallo – HBR

sour taste

When it all comes down to it, the reason why people stay or leave organisations is hardly ever about the work. Rather, it is about how the people who work there make them feel.

Work is hard, not because of the tasks that we are given, but how we perceive ourself to fit in, be supported, and how we get on with those that work with and around us.

I had my professional heart broken when a much valued mentor who was very dissatisfied with his work circumstances was made to provide cover for me while I went on leave. His discontent and malcontent caused much damage while I was away and created havoc and swirling tensions to step back into.

It took me much to partially understand why he did what he did.  It took much more for me to still work with him after finding out about it. When I addressed the situation head-on with him, he stonewalled me and so after a while, I involved upstream to help mediate the issues and to clear the air.

Unfortunately, such was the strength of our teamwork before our workplace relationship soured, that the workplace was never quite the same for me after that. Not only did I lose a strong base of support and belongingness, after the difficulty I had with my mentor, I found myself re-evaluating every person involved in the organisation, as I had trusted the assessments he told me about our co-workers when I started.  It was like starting all over again but instead of being the fresh new guard, I now had history that had firmly aligned me with factions in the department. To my delight many of the people who I got to know again are inspirational, passionate, and caring people.

The institution was and probably still remains a political pit of manoeuvrings that tends to happen when brilliant people are put together who are not united by an overreaching goal. I consider it a great shame that those same brilliant minds and people impassioned by their own tasks could not find a way forward to join together and agree on how things needed to be done for the betterment of greater goals. Score-keeping seemed to be very common and debate was often to disagree rather than to generate more robust solutions.

The relationship with my mentor did get partly mended, at least in my mind anyways, I can’t vouch for him. We still made a coherent and productive team on the occasions we had to work together and when I needed support, he often stepped up and provided it again and often only with a look from me as a prompt.

I have moved on from the upset that I faced during those trying days. I am glad that I was able to thank that past mentor for what he did for me and that relationship ended on a positive if somewhat limp note. Some of the lessons were tough… really tough, but I learnt much from that person, in fact he still makes my top 10 most influential people in my life so far list today. I am in part grateful for the tests because they made me more resilient and measured than before as this was also the first workplace conflict, that despite my best effort, I could not ‘fix’.   Now-a-days I feel really sad that his frustration with his own journey slowly poisoned the brilliance and flair that flowed through his work and alienated him from the wonderful human being I once knew him to be. I’m still grateful that I got to see him at his best and that his best was inspiring.

And for those of you who are smirking and wondering… no there was never any romantic chemistry or intentions! Tut, tut!

The following is a great read from the Harvard Business Review. You need to read it because work relationships can be hard work and they will require crisis management and maintenance on occasions. Amy Gallo offers up some ways to achieve this.

 Fixing a Work Relationship Gone Sour – Amy Gallo – Harvard Business Review.