How to Repair a Damaged Relationship with Your Boss

The relationships that impact your professional image and reputation matter. Relationships that form your inner circle—for example, the people you work closely with—are of particular importance, and the most significant element of that inner circle is your relationship with your boss. How do you repair a damaged relationship with your boss?

Successful professionals are committed to actively and intentionally nurturing their relationships with their bosses and other senior leaders. However, this boss-employee relationship, like any other, can go south.

How you act in a situation that may cost you a relationship says a lot about you, where you’ve come from, and what stops you from holding on to relationships with clarity and grace. Consider these questions about your own history and see if there’s a pattern you observe:

  • What’s been your experience in handling past relationship challenges?
  • What’s your preferred style and comfort in dealing with conflict?
  • What hard conversations have you been putting off?

If you find yourself in a conflict with your boss, consider the following steps for reflecting on where you are and what to do next:

Remember you are not alone

Anyone who has been in the workforce long enough almost certainly has had a few strained relationships with their bosses due to conflicts, misunderstandings, differing points of view, and fixed mindsets. If you thought you were the only one, consider otherwise.

Evaluate the conflict

Being an adult in this relationship is less about having no disagreements or conflicts, but more about how to deal with them mindfully. What contributed to the rocky professional relationship? A few factors might have contributed towards how they turned out:

  • Diverse points of views, perspectives, and frames of reference
  • High stakes
  • Lack of attention
  • Difficulty relating with others

You may want to start by identifying what was at play that caused the current situation. It’s generally not just an event, but a series of events, that cause damage to professional relationships.

Likewise, consider the events that have contributed towards strengthening this relationship in the past. What have been the high points of trust, reciprocity, support, and accommodations?

Watch your BMW

Blaming, Moaning, Whining, that is. Observe your mental chatter about the situation.
Why did I let this conflict happen?
How can I fix this? I’m just not good at relationships!
My boss just doesn’t care…
She/He doesn’t understand….

Your mind can’t be judgmental and open to possibilities and way forward at the same time. Stop blaming the boss, yourself, or anyone else. On the upside, you wouldn’t complain if you did not care about it. Move from the chatter of blame toward curiosity. Ask yourself: What would it take for the relationship to get back on track?

Take responsibility to repair the relationship: three reasons

It’s natural to disengage, ignore, or avoid the boss for a little while, hoping the situation will evaporate and vanish. However, this only creates awkwardness, erodes trust, and minimises your presence and contribution, which is not a great place to find yourself.

Ask yourself: What am I ready to do to mend this relationship?

Trust yourself, for as the saying goes: if you can get yourself into this situation, you can get yourself out of it.

Do you care enough to repair the relationship? Here are three reasons you should: yourself, your boss, and your team.

Reason 1: Repair the relationship for yourself
Your career: Needless to say, the quality of your relationship with your boss can influence the trajectory of your career; at the same time, the world is getting smaller with less than 6 degrees of separation. You don’t want to burn any bridges or tarnish your professional reputation.

Your mental health: Care enough for your mental peace today and in future to resolve the conflict. You might be able to suppress what remains unresolved for now, but it is likely to resurface when you are triggered. You’ll feel much lighter and whole without a part of you holding on to this nagging and negative energy.

Your professional development: Even though you may be right, look at the situation as a learning opportunity. What is it here to teach you? What might you be able to learn here? People come into our lives to teach us something, and when we learn, they go away. As you’ll learn to break through this situation, you will have grown up as a leader and transitioned from a victim to a long-term player.

Reason 2: Repair the relationship for your boss
It’s possible that your boss doesn’t initiate the repair for a variety of reasons. Do it anyway, and be the bigger person. As Simon Sinek, the author and motivational speaker says, “Givers advance the world. Takers advance themselves and hold the world back.”

Reason 3: Repair the relationship for your team
Look beyond this relationship, situation, and people involved. Be a leader. How does being courageous in this situation serve a larger purpose? What will others learn from this? How do they get energised and inspired to bring their best selves forward?

Apply the 5 second rule

My guess is by now, you’ve mustered the courage to write that message or make the phone call to the boss to say that you are committed to invest in the relationship. Apply the 5 second rule. If you don’t act now, i.e. within 5 seconds, your mind will come up with umpteen reasons why it’s a not a good idea. Act on your greatness, and do it now.

AIM for your interaction: Pick one of two paths

Apply the acronym AIM: apologise, intention, mutually agree. Show up with curiosity, compassion, and courage. Apologise because you care for the relationship and not because you are wrong. Share your intention to make things right. Mutually agree to next steps to make progress on the relationship. It may look something like this: “I apologise/regret that we have this tension around this issue right now, and I know it is upsetting for both of us, but I’m committed to work through this.”

There are two paths from here, and you could take either one or take both one after the other:

Path 1: Reflect and Learn Together
Reflect on the situation and learn from it: what happened; what’s the background; what were the thought processes, triggered emotions, assumptions, and data that led to cracks in the relationship? Listen to the other side and present yours. You’ll discover that there are two nervous systems at play, each looking at the issue from differing points of view, coming from entirely different ways of knowing the world, which have, thus, learned to deal with disagreements differently.

Path 2: Move on
Let go of what happened. Start from scratch and build a stronger relationship with rules for transparency, relational process, disagreements for the future conflicts that arise.

[Want more about how to prevent conflict in the future? Check out Live Your Values, Not Your Emotions from Pluma Co-Founder Alexandra Connell.]

Follow up to build trust

Do not assume that from here on your professional relationship with the boss will be smooth. Workplace interactions provide opportunities to strengthen relationships and simultaneously have the potential for misunderstandings when in recovery. With multiple demands on time and attention, business as usual will take over; thus, you must schedule time to connect and catch up to avoid any blind spots.

Share your story

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. Every break is unique and appreciated. Using this as a metaphor for healing our professional relationships teaches us an important lesson: Sometimes in the process of repairing, we actually end up creating relationships that are stronger, more unique, and resilient.

What would you want your Kintsugi story to look like? What character do you want to play in it? What would you title that story?

Want to help your team learn to adeptly navigate conflicts and challenges in workplace relationships? Check out the Pluma online coaching platform and request a demo today. Our certified executive coaches are ready to support you and your team in building the strong relationship skills required to succeed in today’s business environment.