How To Fix Broken Work Relationships In Retail

Broken Work Relationships In Retail

One of the greatest pieces of advice my very first Director of Stores ever gave me when I first started in retail was “don’t burn bridges. Retail is a very small community and you will interacting with the same people throughout your career”. This advice was very valuable and frighteningly true.

Retail is not always easy and sometimes we fall into unhealthy or unhappy patterns with our coworkers. Most coworkers won’t overtly show their dislike for you as they are cognizant that displaying their dislike or upset with their colleagues may impact their careers negatively. Instead they will display passive aggressive practices and/or resort to juvenile behaviors to communicate their displeasure. Doing or saying things to create difficulty for you but keeping it under the radar.

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Retail is a diverse and inclusive industry, which is one of the great things about it, but at times this can mean that contrasting personalities or people with different agendas, are working together – and sometimes friction can occur. Should it be dealt with at first warning? Absolutely! Is it generally? No, it is not. This issue with that is that things won’t repair themselves – over time they generally become worse and bigger. Adult relationships should be built around honest and respectful communication. It’s not necessary [or realistic] to personally like everyone you work with but treating every person with civility and a respect for their role is the right thing to do. We should always strive to be sensitive to the needs of our coworkers, remain upbeat and friendly, communicate openly, support and lend a hand when you can, and give colleagues the benefit of the doubt.

When we work well with our coworkers and there is a mutual respect most everything becomes easier. People have our back when we need it the most, we can ask for and get support more easily, people will volunteer to help in times of need, and we can get earn a far better level cooperation as we work toward the goals and objectives of the business. Being supported and respected will boost our morale, which in turn will make us more productive, focused, creative, and successful in everything we do as individuals and as a team.

8 Signs Your Coworker Isn’t Fond Of You

  • Your Intuition Is Telling You: If you think you caught an eye roll from someone when you were speaking. If that person walks away when you approach them in a group setting. If you say hello and you get nothing in return – chances are you are out of favor with this coworker. Trust your instinct in this case. We are definitely more inclined to see the negatives when we feel that someone doesn’t like us but look for clear, objective, tell-tale signs – otherwise you may be making a mountain out of a molehill.

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  • They Don’t Maintain Eye Contact With You: It’s difficult to look someone in the eye who you don’t respect, especially if you feel as though you give off the glare of disdain. People who don’t like you – but don’t want to address the issue – often feel as though you will be able to detect their hostility so they will look away as the path of least resistance.
  • They Don’t Acknowledge Your Presence: This is childish but I have witnessed it. When people don’t like you but they lack the courage to open up dialog with you they simply pretend you don’t exist. So if they refuse to acknowledge you or dismiss your contributions to conversation there is, likely, an issue.
  • They Constantly Play Devil’s Advocate With Your Suggestions: They consistently poke holes in your ideas and tell you why your suggestions are silly and ineffective. Even if you offer up brilliant solutions they are dismissed or excluded from consideration.
  • There Is A Fundamental Lack of Trust: If you’re questioned excessively about your motives or your coworker only doles out information on a “need-to-know” basis, they may be trying to sabotage your reputation.

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  • You’re Forgotten: When you’re not included in internal communications and emails that may directly affect your results, it can be damaging to your career, ‘Forgetting’ to include you in an update or communication about a topic or project directly related to your work is also a problem. This can also manifest itself in poor schedule assignments [at the store level] so that the rest of the team can go out together for lunch or dinner while you hold down the fort.
  • Your Achievements Aren’t Celebrated: When you have a great day or make a real impact on the business – it is not congratulated or even acknowledged by your peer. You contribute to the success of your team but, if the person who doesn’t like you is your supervisor, you are left out of important store visits and you’re unable to build a reputation with your senior leaders.
  • Email Is Their Preferred Method Of Communicating: Whether you are in a retail store or home office environment – if someone who we see frequently is sending us emails it is usually a sign that they don’t want to engage in dialog with us. Let’s face it – no one is super introverted in retail – so it usually is a sign they are passive aggressive. They make the opportunity to communicate awkward and unpleasant to keep you at bay.

 4 Possible Reasons Why Your Coworkers Are Disenchanted With You

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  • Polictically Savvy/Unethical or Dishonest Behaviors: Colleagues may respect, and even learn from, your politically savvy ways, but when it crosses the line and borders on unethical or dishonest, or begins to impact their ability to advance their own agendas or career path – you may risk relationships with potential allies in the workplace. When polarizing employees begin to play up to their bosses and other executives through influence and not action their agenda becomes clear. If you have some political maneuvering to do, be strategic and honestly communicate your intentions with your colleagues. Be transparent and earn respect from your colleagues  – through doing great work and being a great coworker – rather than plotting a plan that is perceived as potentially sneaky.   So many relationships are lost when people don’t communicate. In retail it is an absolute reality that your colleagues will eventually find out about your plan anyway and how you manage this plan will be the difference between being a jerk – who’ll do anything to get ahead – or an honest and driven employee who’s action and results speak to their abilities.
  • Mediocrity Syndrome: Alabama Football Coach, Nick Saban was quoted as saying, “Mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocre people.” In retail, this is SO true. Especially if the organization doesn’t have a recognition plan in place or if top performers are treated to additional responsibilities because of their efficiency and effectiveness. As a high-performer – my intentions are sound and transparent and I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride when my team delivers greatness – the reality that I am driven to achieve results is what turns off those who accept mediocrity or satisfied with “good enough”. When high-performers are only rewarded with added responsibility but their lower performing peers are allowed to produce sub-par results without recourse – the organization is endorsing a culture that breeds conflict and contention and they own that issue which will, ultimately, have a negative impact on productivity, collaboration, and loyalty.

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  • You Impede Progress: Be it because you are disorganized,  late with deliverables, you don’t pull your weight, only stick to your job description. There are a number of ways you can hurt your team by not doing your job and not caring about your coworkers. Rarely, in retail, does your work not effect someone elses results. When you don’t consider that – or worse, don’t care about that – you risk hurting your team and your professional reputation. Not contributing to the business goals and objectives makes everyone’s job more difficult. Impeding team progress also can occur when people are more interested in socially engaging with their team members to the detriment of their metrics or project objectives. Gossips, toxic coworkers, people who feel victimized by the workplace – generally will bend the ear of any and everyone they can so that their voice is heard and in doing so will sap time and energy from others on the team.
  • You Choose Competition Over Collaboration: Being competitive is a great quality to have, but it can unknowingly create disruption and almost certainly tension with your coworkers if you are not managing your competitiveness correctly.  You need your team and your colleagues if you want to achieve true success and you can share your story with your colleagues along the way by sharing best practices and successes. When you take a competitive approach to your business you automatically make it about your success and not about the collective team – which turns a lot of people off. Thinking – on a larger scale – about how you can include and inspire your colleagues communicate your investment in the collective success of the team on a small and large scale, will show you are committed to your teams’ success.

How To Fix Broken Relationships In Retail

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A sign of emotional maturity and intelligence is the ability to read people. A sign of real maturity and intelligence is the ability to open up a dialog with the person/people who have written you off and determine what happened and how to fix it.

  • Admit You Have Ownership In The Issue: That doesn’t mean you were the catalyst for the broken relationship but that you contributed to it in some way – either by design or by accident. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t rationalize it. Just apologize, acknowledge you want to fix it, and open up a dialog around it. Apologizing can be difficult – especially if the other person was at fault or misinterpreted something, but your ability to overcome this challenge in the retail microenvironment – we often work in – will speak volumes about your integrity and commitment to a strong team dynamic and the role you play in it. If you were at fault – it’s a tough thing to admit but it’s the right thing to do.
  • Do It Sooner Rather Than Later: One mark of a great retail leader is that they use their intuition as a form of intelligence. If your gut is telling you something is a little off about a relationship – discuss it with the person who is giving you the seemingly cold shoulder. It could be nothing but at least you have set a precedent that you are open and happy to resolve issues when they arise. Issues, unaddressed, will grow exponentially and when people have time to conduct a post-mortem on the problem with colleagues, friends, and family members it also tends to become bigger and greater an issue than what it actually is. Remember – people are inclined to embrace the negative more than the positive. Don’t let it fester – address it and work through it.

Even if you didn’t play a role in the breakdown of trust, you do have a role to play in restoring it.

  • Reframe The Experience For Learning: Placing your experience in a larger context and striving to understand the extenuating circumstances and perceptions which led to the challenging relationship allows you to view your experience from an objective point of view. You’re able to grasp the complexities of your situation, consider what might have been going on for the other person/people and begin to contemplate the alternative ways to communicate as you move forward.
  • Forgive & Forget: Learning to forgive is a great practice. When you forgive, you release yourself from the weight of resentment and empower yourself to approach others with empathy and understanding in the future. When others sense you’re amenable to practicing forgiveness, they extend their trust to you and are more inclined to surface concerns to you before they become issues that effect work environments. Once the issue is resolved and done with – move on. Don’t gossip about it. Don’t reference it. Move passed it and on to more productive challenges and engage in behaviors that build trust and support on your team.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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