Managing Difficult Relationships at Work

More than occasionally problems arise in the team between two people or one and many.

As a manager, this is a headache.  As the outsiders, it’s stressful trying to skip around it and keep working, and as the people involved it is distracting to say the least!

If there is one unhappy person in the team you are all unhappy – on edge, thinking more carefully about words and actions, wondering who is involved and what has really happening beneath the layer on unease.

Performances suffer for everyone.  The manager is distracted by the issues, managing the people and trying to keep the others on track – and themselves.

It’s OK to dislike someone, and if that’s the simple case you can still work together in a professional manner, but not spend time with them unless you have to and not sit by or opposite them in meetings if you can help it.

But what happens when previous friends fall out, when someone new comes in and no-one can really connect with them or something unclear from management down has taken place and the unease remains but no-one knows why?

Make the effort, as a manager or team member, to carry on the workload.  Clear lines of responsibilities are drawn and reminded, people are separated if possible until the issues are resolved, and no-one should be isolated for any reason as this makes it all so much worse!  Even if it’s only you as the manager who talks to them and negotiates things between them for a time, they need to be and feel part of the whole team – they have a role and tasks that matter in the wider scheme of the team workload, performance and efforts.


Building good relationships is one thing – maintaining good working relationships is another, and issues will arise at some point – through resentment of others benefits, someone said something in anger or upset that impacted far greater because they are both stressed or anxious or something difficult is happening behind the scenes (needs to be kept contained) and yet impacts on everyone.  Your manager needs to manage this – get advice from HR, talk to those involved explaining the impact on others and their future, and being honest with the process and outcomes potentially.

As one of those involved – identify your own part in the disagreement and think about what you can change to make it better again, or improve the changes that have taken place in your relationship.  True, it may never be the same again but it also won’t continue to be so antagonistic either!  You cannot sustain it – either of you!  You have to both speak to your manager, share what you can with colleagues but not gossiping or nastily – just a “there’s an issue that we have and are trying to resolve” might be all it takes to explain and reassure people it won’t continue to affect the team’s performance.  That alone can suffice to let the rest of them – or everyone – get on day to day, until resolution is achieved.

Resolution might be:

Mediation formally or via HR or another manager, or colleague if appropriate e.g. shared friends;

HR process but not a grievance or disciplinary unless it really is against the law or policies;

Talking one to one to identify the individual issues and talking to both with an agreement going forward;

If it is the manager and a staff member (less than bullying) – maybe a misunderstanding, a disagreement on process and procedure or responsibilities etc. then HR have to get involved and the manager’s manager – team management is key here;

One person might have to leave in the worst case scenario depending on the issue and severity but this is a last resort hopefully;