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.
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. Sometimes leaving a job for one bad situation can land you in the middle of another that’s different and worse.
Before I talk about how to mend fences, let me add there are definitely toxic situations that warrant leaving. Carefully consider your own circumstances and assess what’s best for you.
Here are some simple things to try before giving up.
Rationally Assess the Situation
Often when in a heated or stressful exchange, we shift from rational thinking to survival mode (amygdala brain). This is important for survival but overkill for most interpersonal relationship situations.
If you feel your blood boiling and 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 the best thing you can do is NOT join them. 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 later”
That space of time will help facilitate productive rational conversations and solutions.
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 with, it’s best to try and work it out with them.
Most conflicts are simple misunderstandings that can be resolved if two people are willing to talk it out. You can do a lot of damage going over their head. This creates trust issues, makes your co-worker defensive and can annoy the employer.
If you’ve tried talking it out and the problem continues, I would make a second and possibly even a third attempt before escalation. Give them a suggestion that if the problem continues that it would be important to you to involve the boss.
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
Try to isolate the issue you are having with who your co-worker is overall. Maybe they lack in one or two personality traits but are excellent in their skill set. Or maybe they had a bad week and were irritable, but generally great to work with.
Whatever it is, don’t dismiss the big picture. 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 a 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 ABC, but when you do XYZ it creates a problem. I want to work this out with you. 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.
You have to show and feel a measure of empathy, as hard as it may be. If they don’t perceive you are listening they will try to escalate their argument with you. The belief is that if they get louder or more forceful you will 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 need more ABC, and that if you get XYZ, the problem will be fixed, 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 a win in the situation. That enables them to save face or get something out of it.
Try this: “Maybe we could do ABC to help you out with this…” 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 times when none of the above will work and the problem persists. It’s okay, you can’t always fix problems on your own. Intervention and mitigation are employer responsibilities.
As was mentioned above, suggest that you both take the issue to the boss for resolution. Don’t blindside or do it without their knowledge – go together. If they aren’t willing, then obviously you need to follow through on your own.
It’s tempting to take problems directly to the boss so they hear your side and rule in your favor. But a good employer will want both sides. If they meet with both of you at the same time it can be handled more efficiently.
Going together also sends a message to the boss that you both care and want to resolve it.
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 and get your guidance.”
Office drama and conflicts are common. Sometimes they are easily resolved with some extra effort. So, create an environment where it can be, and if necessary involve the employer together.
Doug Perry is an expert resume writer and job search coach. He and his wife, Tracie, who is a dental hygienist, created GetHiredRDH in response to the challenging dental hygiene job market and have helped thousands of dental hygienists through tips and individual services. If you need individual, click here to contact Doug.