As a working Mom, I have a lot on my plate. Because of that, I don’t engage in workplace drama, but as a manager I often counsel people through their conflicts at work. Here are some tips I’ve put together that have served me well over the years:
The first thing to do is to question the situation and the other person’s behavior. Why are they doing this, why are they saying this or what brought you to this conflict. Don’t become confrontational and avoid showing frustration, anger or other emotions that may cause you to lose control of the situation. Ask questions instead of pointing a finger. The other person may have reasons for why the situation got to that point. Listen to them and keep an open mind.
Keep the focus on yourself. Try not to worry about how the other person is behaving, only pay attention to how you react. You cannot control the way anyone else to reacts or behaves, but you can always control your own actions. As long as what you are putting out into the world is kind and professional, you’re doing your part.
Don’t continue to air your complaints and vent to people who only affirm your side of the argument. Find a trusted friend or colleague who can help you see the other side of the situation. Putting yourself in an echo chamber does not help you and likely will only serve to make you angrier and less able to fix things.
One of my favorite phrases to share when conflict arises between two people is: “everyone has stuff.” What I mean by that is every person has something they’re dealing with in their life – financial stress, family relationships, illness, etc. Remember that you are not the only one with things happening outside of your work life that are difficult. Some people can be very good at hiding the effect these things are having on their stress levels and others wear every emotion on their sleeves, even at work. There is not one correct way to handle outside stress, so give your colleagues some patience, no matter how they choose to deal with their stuff.
Perceptions of conversations and interactions can be wildly different from person to person. If I say, “Please don’t share this spreadsheet” to my team. They may walk away with 30 completely different interpretations, which are shaped by their own experiences and personalities.
- Person A could interpret the statement as “you are all totally unreliable, so I have to remind you that this spreadsheet can’t be shared even though I’ve told you this before.” This person may be someone who takes things personally. It is an attack on their abilities because they lack confidence in their work.
- Person B could hear me say “you can share the spreadsheet with people within our department, but not outside of it.” Their interpretation may be based on a prior experience. They knew it was okay to share it internally, so they’ve made an assumption that this time is the same.
This is an extreme example, but I use it to illustrate two things: 1. You should always aim to be very clear in your own communications to avoid interpretation that’s different from your intention. 2. You must understand that although you and a colleague interpreted something differently, it does not mean that the other person is wrong. Their brain frames the situation around their experiences and their personality.
Be ready to accept that some people just aren’t going to be introspective nor will they want to change. They may be unwilling to see their contribution to the problem and will deflect all responsibility onto you or someone else. If that is the case, you will need to back away from pushing the situation any further. Accept your loss and go back to focusing on your own behavior.
Don’t be afraid to do what you need to do to keep your sanity. If you need to remove yourself from the room when that person is around, do it (if you can). Don’t let yourself get stuck in an environment where you find your stress levels too high. If you find yourself crying every night or morning before work, don’t suffer in silence. Find someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. They may be able to help you. If they can’t, it may just feel good to get the problem off of your chest.