Updated: Nov 9, 2021
I am the CEO of a medium sized company. I hired a VP to work with me in 2019 before the pandemic and we had a great relationship from the start. We worked well together. Last year, we had some disagreements about how our office handled pandemic guidelines and I feel like we have never really recovered from those disagreements. Unfortunately, political differences were also brought up during this time. Since then, my VP has been cold, isolated, and difficult to work with in general. I have tried speaking with her several times. I ask if there is anything wrong, if I can do anything better to support her and her answer is always the same “Everything is fine. I’m fine. I don’t need anything.” I’ve set aside our differences and still respect her as a valuable team member, but she doesn’t seem to respect me anymore. Is there anything I can do to get her to “open-up” and recognize the change in our relationship and how it is negatively affecting our work?
I can imagine how it is negatively affecting your work and working relationship. Creating pandemic guidelines can be a topic that elicits strong feelings on all sides. I’d suggest approaching the conversation from a different angle, with you opening-up, focusing on your reaction rather than trying to get her to talk. You’re her boss, and so it’s complicated for her to be honest with you about whatever negative reactions she has to the original disagreements. She may feel that some element of trust was lost, or that you weren’t who she thought you were.
Lead With Your Reaction
As a new approach, let her know your impressions of the current state of the relationship and reactions to it, without casting “blame” on her. Focus on relationship-preserving language. For instance, you might say something like, “I’ve sensed a shift in our relationship, and miss the old sense of camaraderie I’d felt working with you. To me, it seems like our disagreements about the pandemic guidelines strained our relationship, but I’d really like us to get back on our former footing.”
Ask Open-Ended Questions
If she doesn’t say anything, you can follow it up with a question, preferably open ended, like, “What do you think?” or “What’s it been like for you?” Then follow up with “What can I do to help improve our relationship?” Hopefully, she’ll be able to respond in a way that gives the two of you something to work with as you seek to rebuild your relationship, focusing on understanding together what went wrong and steps going forward, and how the two of you can work through other strong disagreements.
You Take the First Risk
I’m suggesting that you be the first to initiate being open, in a way that focuses on your thoughts, reaction, and possible behavior change. You’re taking a risk before you ask her to take a risk. Even if she says she hasn’t noticed any change and everything is fine, by telling her about your experience and hopes, you’re letting her know that you’re willing to work at the relationship. Change may not happen overnight, but give it a few weeks.
Disclaimer: This question and response is provided for informational purposes only, and you should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this content. It is strongly recommended that you immediately seek legal or other professional advice if you believe you are experiencing a problem requiring professional assistance. Robin Rosenberg and Live in Their World, Inc. disclaim all liability for actions you take or fail to take based on Dear Robin content.