Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to work and never have conflicts with co-workers? Unfortunately, it happens and too often forces you and many others to leave an otherwise good job with patients you love.
But let’s put the brakes on any current situation you are facing and see if it can be repaired or improved enough to compel you to stay. Remember, like neighbors, you can’t always choose who you work with and sometimes leaving a job for one bad situation can potentially land you in the middle of another one that’s different and worse.
Before I share some tips on mending fences, let me add there are most definitely situations and people out there that are so toxic they warrant leaving – even if you don’t have something new lined up. You have to carefully judge and weigh-out your own situation to know what’s best for you.
Here are some simple things to try to help the situation:
Rationally Assess the Situation
Often times when in a heated exchange or stressful moment, we shift from rational thinking to survival mode (amygdala brain). This is an important function for survival but is overkill for most interpersonal relationship situations we encounter with co-workers and others.
If you feel your blood beginning to boil and you want to unload on a co-worker it’s really important to step away and re-group. If you let the amygdala take over and run the conversation you may dominate and win the battle, but you won’t win the war. In order to strengthen relationships, cooler heads need to prevail.
That also means when someone has lost control on you – best thing you can do is NOT join them (as hard as it may be). Don’t try to out-argue or match their tone. It never ends up good. Take the high road. Calmly ask if the matter can be discussed later (ideally 24 hours later, but even an hour would help) and give them a specific time.
Try this: “I understand your concerns, and I want to talk with you about them, but it would be best if we did it…”
That space of time will help you and/or them get back into rational-thinking mode and you can focus on solutions instead of just conflict.
Never Go Over their Head at the Beginning
Some people tend to not want to deal with conflict at all and instead go straight to the boss. But in fairness to the person you are having a conflict, it’s best to try and work it out with them one-on-one first.
Often times conflicts are simply easy misunderstandings that can be resolved if two people are willing to talk it out. But you can do a lot of damage if instead you go over their head without any warning to them of a problem. Not only will the co-worker be upset you didn’t go to them first, but the boss might be annoyed you didn’t try to work it out with the co-worker first also.
If you’ve talked to the co-worker and the problem continues, I would make a second and possibly even a third attempt before escalation. And, give them a suggestion that if the problem continues that it would be important to involve the boss to help resolve it.
Try this: “Clearly we haven’t come to a good solution to this problem, I think if it continues we need to go in together and talk with…”
Separate the Person from their Actions
Humans are complex – some things we are good at, while others need work. Try to isolate the issue you are having with who they are overall. They may really stink at cleaning up a room quickly after a patient leaves or are sloppy in gathering patient information. But maybe they are great at taking radiographs or are excellent with kids.
Whatever it is, don’t dismiss their talents. Even if you have to dig deep, try to find something they do that’s good. This will help you keep the problem in perspective and not begin to tear down everything about them – which is a tendency as problems escalate.
When it comes time to have the conversation with them about the issue, begin with a compliment. Share something they are doing right or that you admire about them. That will open them up to what you have to say, and be more willing to accept and change it.
Try this: “Susan, you are great at making every patient that comes in here feel comfortable, but when you don’t jump quickly into getting the room cleaned up it puts me behind. What can we do to resolve this?”
Really Listen to Them
Give them a chance to be heard, and know that they are being heard. If they perceive that they are being heard and that you are internalizing their side of the argument, they will be more likely to do the same for you and you can make progress toward a solution.
You have to show and feel a measure of empathy, as hard as it may be. It’s really important because if they don’t think you are listening they will try to escalate their argument with you (believing a louder or more forceful presentation will make you understand). Getting louder and more forceful with each other won’t create an environment for resolution.
The best technique for this is to re-state what it is they are saying and then ask if you understood it correctly.
Try this: “So you feel that you are not being given enough time when the patient leaves to clean the room so you wait until later to do it, am I understanding correctly?”
Offer Win-Win Solutions
You may feel the entire problem rests on the co-worker (and you might be right), but if you want them to embrace your solution give them some kind of a win in the situation that enables them to save face or get something out of it.
Try this: “Maybe we could talk to Jane about helping you when things get hectic or if I have a few down minutes maybe I could help with…” or “Hey, don’t worry, I’ve been in the same situation, let’s see what we can do to fix it.”
Win-win isn’t just a great strategy in co-worker relations, it’s smart in salary negotiations and other situations where you are blending two conflicting viewpoints into one.
Talk to the Boss Together
There are certainly times when none of the above will work and the offense happens over and over again. You can’t always fix problems on your own – that’s one reason the boss gets paid the big bucks.
As was mentioned above, suggest that you both take the issue to the boss for resolution. Don’t blind-side them and do it without their knowledge – go together. If they aren’t willing to do that, then obviously you need to go alone and ask for some help.
It’s really tempting to take a problem directly to the boss so they can hear your side only and hopefully rule in your behalf, but a good boss is not going to do that. They are going to want both sides and if they see both of you meeting with them at the same time, they are going to feel much more optimistic the situation can be resolved and happier to act as judge because they have both sides of the argument presented equally.
Going together also sends a message to the boss that you both care and both want to resolve it. That you both want the best for the practice or office.
Try this: “I’m sorry to bother you, but Jen and I need your help. We keep having this same issue so we want you to hear both sides of it and get your guidance.”
Office drama and conflicts are very very common. Sometimes they are easily resolved with some extra effort. So invest some effort into it, work with the person to resolve it, and you can not only fix the battles but win the war, too.