Going back to our day to day work, sometimes, we have to be direct. During those times, and during times of high stress (due to deadlines or other family reasons), people become more sensitive.

What steps can a PM take to fix a broken relationship? How can I determine if it is fixable?

When is it acceptable to have a broken relationship?


6 Answers 6


As a manager, you absolutely cannot bring your personal problems to work with you. Plain and simple.

There have been times where stress has gotten the better all of us. It's important to learn the triggers that cause this stress and also learn how to recognize when you may not be at your best. By knowing when your judgement is affected by stress, you can make adjustments to your own behavior.

For example, I personally try not to criticize anyone while I'm under duress, as I know I'm more likely to overreact. Instead, I either get the opinion of a third party beforehand, or I wait until the stress is not so high and when I know I can be objective.

With that said, there are times when stress does occasionally get the better of us and we say or do things we wouldn't otherwise do under normal circumstances. If that does happen, be an adult and apologize. As long as you aren't making a habit of blowing up on people, most people will understand that you too are human, like they are, and you will be forgiven.

Since the success of a manager is defined by the ability to provide motivation and leadership and earning the respect of others, broken relationships will never help you reach your goals. You can't lead and motivate people who don't respect you as a leader. In summary, at no point in time is a broken relationship acceptable.

I find Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If" to be a great source of inspiration. When all those about you are losing their head, this is when you must keep yours.

  • 1
    Thanks for the poem! I will agree with all you said. I see your point, even when the stress of others are making them say or do things that are against the normal standard, then is when you should keep your thoughts align. In my particular instance this person said a few things that were not true. These are the moments of life that make you grow.
    – Geo
    Feb 28, 2011 at 13:53
  • 3
    +1 "be an adult and apologize". I'll add, it's not necessary to make excuses, but it is necessary to acknowledge behavior and move on. For example, don't say "sorry, I've been under a lot of stress." Just say, "I really apologize, my behavior was unacceptable; it will not happen again, and I think we can move forward from here." You'd be surprised at how far sincerity gets you.
    – CraigV
    Feb 28, 2011 at 14:17
  • In this specific instance, this team member is not going to apologize to my other manager. I think the manager will have to "be an adult and apologize", even though there was no incorrect behavior from him, other than calling him out. Thanks guys for this great feedback.
    – Geo
    Feb 28, 2011 at 16:40
  • @Geo, calling someone out in public rather than providing feedback appropriately in private is itself poor behavior, and the team member should probably apologise for that. Having said that, I'd prefer managers to be forgiving of people communicating poorly. They're trained in communication skills; few other people are.
    – Lunivore
    Jun 19, 2012 at 16:10

In order to avoid any relationship problems every manager shall strictly separate personal domain from business domain. Never criticize a person, criticize a solution. In other words we can say: "be objective".

If relationship is broken it means one of two things:

  1. You were not objective. Admit it and explain your mistake to the person you offended.
  2. You were objective, but your colleague is not professional enough to admit objective criticism. Forget about this relationship.
  • 1
    Salute to that ! ---> "Never criticize a person, criticize a solution" + 1 Jun 20, 2012 at 2:54

I try not to break relationships in the first place. It doesn't always work :)

I find, like you, that sometimes when the deadlines approach and stress is high, I sometimes miss the clues that people need a bit less directness. I have been successful in simply apologizing and agreeing how we will interact better next time.

To avoid breaking relationships, I remember that my job is to get the people through the project and it's not about making alliances. As long as I focus on that, I'm more likely to treat the person the way they need in the moment.

  • You are completely right. Breaking relationships is not healthy in almost any way. I just wanted to get to an extreme position. I believe this happens more often than not. But I might be wrong.
    – Geo
    Feb 27, 2011 at 21:46
  • @Geo - I think you're right that it does happen, but more so with younger, inexperienced leaders. As leaders gain more experience, they learn that they must be the pillar of stability; otherwise, the projects and teams they lead will veer off course.
    – jmort253
    Feb 27, 2011 at 23:07

Answering your question on how to fix a broken relation, I prefer setting up a face to face meeting and start it with saying directly that the relation is broken. Then, direct the conversation into a solution, not the problem.

The goal of such talking is to understand, that both sides have the same goal. Also, understanding each other's motivation of one doing (or not doing) something helps to understand each others perspective on the same goal.

Needless to say, that such a conversation is a very difficult one; some hints that may help:

  • Change the meeting place from a boring, everyday workplace to some creative area. Go for a walk, go for a beer.
  • Use good communications. Ask questions like "what do you need... ?", "what will make you happier?", etc.
  • Drill down the issue with "why?" question. Ask it as many time as you really understand the issue.
  • Be calm ;)

I usually see broken relationships as motivational hazards. Meaning that there are mixed objectives that either parts are trying to achieve. Sometimes relationships get broken or to a state of no apparent return. The very first thing you must do is hear all parties and understand what is the driver of the situation. From there a course of action can be made and decisions taken, always having open communication channels.

See for example the "Drama Triangle" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle

In a nutshell, it's important to see the big picture and not just the isolated scenarios, realizing that all the parties are part of the resolution and need to be in a different spot (not as persecutors or victims or saviors). Neither more or less than others, just different and with different motivations. The "here and now" it's more important that what happened in the past. Ultimately we are all here to be happy, and if that can't be achieved, then probably we are not in the right place...


simply apologize for your behavior, and if needed, provide explanation about your problems. you might think that you can split your private and professional life, but you can't. you are the very same person at your workplace than at home (and i stress the word 'person', not 'human resource') - you supposed to have feelings, moods etc., and the others must respect them.

the extent of their respect, of course, is the extent of your respect towards them. if you was really rude to them, don't expect hugs after simply saying 'sorry', but after you make the first step, healing can begin.

and, of course, it's best if the relationship is not broken at the first place.

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