Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. I have seen many instances (some were me) where The Hero works valiantly to repair trust and win back support from their colleagues, only to find that their Villains still end up wanting them gone. It’s frustrating for everyone involved. I’m going to tell you one common reason why.
Once lost, no amount of just “getting stuff done” will win back trust and support. You may occasionally convert a detractor into a neutral party that way, but they will never become a promoter without a campaign of aggressive marketing founded on alignment. You have to overcome the bias they have built up against you.
While it may feel hopeless, often it’s not. Here’s a straight-forward approach to this that you can try:
- Sit down with your detractor 1:1 and make sure you understand their needs. What is it that their leader is asking from them?
- Align to those goals. What is your team responsible for that they require, or that would help them in their mission? Let’s assume they have have to deliver Project Foo in the next six months and they are super stressed about it.
- Make a plan for what you are going to do next, and how you’re going to measure progress. Make sure this plan takes the Project Foo schedule into account. Communicate this plan clearly and concisely. Do this step quickly or move on to another problem and accept you won’t win this person over anytime soon.
- Have a regular, ten minute check-in meeting (don’t just send slides) to show progress and share what you’re learning along the way. You may discover a better approach, or a better way to measure things. Be overt, don’t keep that learning hidden.
- If they don’t want to meet and just want you to send updates, don’t send attachments. Send an email they can read in 15 seconds without opening or clicking anything.
- Whether updates are in person or an email, make sure to reference Project Foo’s milestones. Don’t assume your detractor will connect what your team is doing to help their teams with their delivery targets. Remember: they didn’t wake up this morning thinking about what your team is doing for them.
- Get testimonials from people your detractor trusts and mention those during your check-ins. Ideally at least one of these will be a leader on Project Foo.
- Meet with your detractors’ leader after major milestones in Project Foo and share how you’re working together. Ask them for feedback (they probably won’t have any - that’s ok).
Do you see the theme? You aren’t trying to replace someone’s agenda with your own. You’re understanding their challenges and goals and demonstrating that you can help them. You’re trying to be known by what you deliver, and what you deliver matters to them.
All this assumes your detractor is someone you need to win over. This implies the goals they are tasked with delivering are material to the future of the firm. In this kind of situation you’re likely an enablement leader or change agent. It also assumes this is someone you have a hope of rebuilding trust with, so they are somewhat rational.
You may feel like you’re in a loop with your jobs and that this pattern keeps repeating itself. You come in to the company, full of fire, get people excited, but then after a year or two the “new person” armor wears off and you find your colleagues more and more hostile to you. So you get frustrated and go get another job to try again.
At some point you have to grow up and break that cycle. Recognize that the common denominator in your experiences is you. That’s actually great news, because it means it’s a problem you can solve!