How to Make Nice

How to Make Nice

Stepped on a few toes lately? Here are some tips for winning back your estranged colleagues

Getting others to do what you want them to do because they want to do it is the ultimate test of leadership skill

It's amazing how often executives are stymied by their inability to influence others. The typical scenario involves a talented, change-oriented leader who gets a shot at a more visible role. In the process of getting stuff done, he steps on a few (very influential) toes. Over a couple of years, the executive racks up some impressive accomplishments but finds that his success is hindered by the organizational minefields his actions have sown over the years. As a result, the executive tires of the level of effort required to move things forward and decides that it's time to move on.

Getting others to do what you want them to do because they want to do it is the ultimate test of leadership skill. It's hard to face the fact that others don't like working with you (and it always boils down to this very personal sentiment, doesn't it?) but once the tears, anger and denial are over, two questions remain: Is it too late to salvage these relationships, and how can I do that?

It's rarely too late to try again, although it does take a lot of time and effort because it's easier to create impressions than change them. It may seem easier to start over at a new company, but the only sure way to put the issue to bed is by winning back those who have walked away. I have a couple of clients in this situation and, the fact is, they can change organizations but they won't change the outcome. No matter where they go, there they are; you can change organizations, but unless you change your behaviour, you'll find yourself in a new place facing the same old problem.

It's easier to outline what to do than it is to muster the courage to get it done. The first steps require eating a lot of humble pie. Start by facing the truth of how your actions got you into trouble. Everybody has a tendency to, at first, place the blame on others. Accepting accountability requires explaining the past without using the phrases "He said . . . ", "She should . . . ", "I told them . . . ", "I tried . . . ", and so on.

Next, reach out to would-be colleagues by communicating three things. First, say that you are sorry for past actions. Tell them you would like to restart the relationship. Then ask for their help in doing so. The combination of apologizing and asking for help is powerful in that it disarms the listener and asks him to verbally (and therefore, psychologically) commit to being a partner in your success. If the other party is unwilling to let go of the past, focus your efforts elsewhere.

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