So, the signs are all there & something definitely feels up. The relationship hasn't ended; but it feels like you're HERE & they're? Mentally someplace else. Is it too late to reengage your Employee or repair your relationship? There's lots of advice on how to "Spot" problems but considerably less on the tools you need to "fix" them. Here's a few tips on how you can stop feeling the "here without you" blues in your personal/professional relationships & move forward to where you want to be:
1. First, throw out all the rules... Be open to the possibility that what's worked w/ others in your department won't fit the needs of this relationship; the articles that you’ve read aren’t set-in-stone relationship commandments, & the signs/triggers from past relationships aren't necessarily indicative of problems in this one. Drop your baggage & preconceived notions. Early in my career, I was taught that "special people dictate special circumstances." Basically, in this context, allow your relationships to have the flexibility needed to succeed & be open to other perspectives so you can reach a successful end-goal. What relationship or employee do you have that ISN'T special?? They all are.
2. Have the "Right" to BE Where You Are - As touchy-feeling as this may sound, (1) it's important to let the other person know that it's OKAY that they feel the way they do - you don't like that there's dysfunction, but you don't blame them for their feelings. (2) If you can't honestly say that? You're not ready to talk - without it, you're setting the stage for an argument & it's unlikely to end positively. It's also a good idea to set time-limits for your 'relationship discussions' - they shouldn't be marathons. Many Counselors suggest 15-30 min. for the first "timeline sync' conversation & then no more than 1 hr for each subsequent one. The last 10 minutes should be spent reviewing action plans on what each person is going to work through in order to make the next conversation productive.
3. Focus on the "Why," Not the "What" - Have you ever noticed that it's easy to deconstruct WHAT went wrong with relationships & the whom did what to whom?? Monday-Morning QB’ing the details of the dysfunction won't heal the relationship; it often makes it worse as it sets both parties on the defensive, increasing hurt & anger. So, instead of dealing with the symptoms; focus on diagnosing the root cause. Communication is KEY. Write down the last time each of you remember your relationship was firing on all cylinders & work backwards until your time-lines match. Remember to listen as much as you talk; be open to the probability that you both had a hand in creating your current situation – that allows you to accept responsibility.
4. And Then You Have to Do It... Accept Responsibility - That doesn't mean simply saying you’re sorry or calling yourself a putz. You have to take time to understand why you contributed through your actions/inaction the way you did; & what that means for you. This doesn't happen in a half an hour. Which means your first conversation about where you are? Won't be your last. Just as it took time to build a healthy relationship to begin with? It takes time to repair an unhealthy one. At the beginning of each conversation; own the mistakes or hurt feelings you had a h& in causing & let them know you're open to change (3) - it'll make it easier for your partner to do the same.
5. Stop Self-Sabotaging - In between those conversations, it's easy & tempting to indulge in unhealthy & negative behaviors. It's okay to admit, we've all done it - but it's really NOT okay for your relationship. Which is why I think a lot of us engage in them - somewhere in us we think it's easier to wreck the relationship, or drive the employee off, than it is to fix it. And you know what? We're right. But easier does NOT equal best... think about that. So, take time to figure out what those behaviors are for you & commit to doing it differently this time - once identified, they're easier to overcome. Grab a friend or mentor for accountability, if needed - they're there to help.
6. Create a New Game-Plan - Once you know where the relationship went off tracks & you've each taken ownership over the hands you had in it; it's time to admit the game-plan you were working off of? Wasn't really working for this relationship. So... make a new one! Be open to new ways of thinking, ask for input from your partner & be ready to work.
Establish new goals, boundaries, & expectations for where the two of you are NOW; it's really a little unrealistic to think this WOULDN'T need to happen as you grow together. This is actually part of the reason we have performance reviews; as we grow in our jobs, we game-film where we've been to see where we need to be for success moving forward. If you're not doing them in your Company? You should be. And Personally?? Why wouldn't we need something similar - do you want & need the same things out of a relationship at 35 that you needed at 18? Doubtful. (4)
7. "Re-Establish Engagement" - Put the plan in action & stop working things out on your own... you need to make sure that you keep the lines of communication open & reward positive behaviors - not like they're a puppy, but everyone likes knowing that they're meeting needs... whether it's at work, at home with family, with friends, or significant others. This is why recognition programs at work are so popular! It doesn't have to be financial; just a "I appreciate you" or "I can't tell you how much the work I see you doing means to me" goes a LONG way when it comes to increasing engagement in relationships.
(1) & I guess it is, but whatever, it's needed
(2) Their actions? Different story; but you can't & shouldn't police or dictate people's emotions.
(3) even if you don't know what that yet looks like
(4) this does NOT mean you bust out 360 degree review sheets for your partner & send them to your friends, each of your parents, & family members. That? Would be crazy. SMART goals, however? Totally cool (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic & timely)