We can’t get along with everyone. If you’ve ever been involved in an office feud, you know how disruptive and toxic it can be for the workplace. It feels terrible to come to work anticipating someone’s subtle resentment, or worse, overtly bad behavior. And no matter who’s right or wrong, your colleagues may put pressure on you to fix it—and fast, before it gets in the way of a work project.
How you resolve the conflict can have a direct bearing on your own professional standing as well. Here are three steps for resolving the feud and getting back on track:
Stop and regroup
Before taking any kind of action, take time to reflect on what just happened while it’s still fresh in your mind. Sit down somewhere quiet and take a deep breath. Jot down some notes as objectively as you can, focusing on who said what, how the fight started, and other relevant information. Revisiting a conflict is never easy, but if you wait too long, you may not remember key details.
Assume that your counterpart is also doing their own version of this. Remember that you both likely feel injured, disrupted, and unsure of how to move forward.
Confide in a trusted ally
It’s always good to have a trusted ally in the office for emotional support. If and when you wind up in a conflict, resist the urge to vent about the character of your opponent—that’s not going to help you get over this. Instead, ask for your ally’s assistance as an objective sounding board.
Review your understanding of the conflict with them, have them ask you pointed questions to dig into the situation, and be willing to listen to their feedback. They may provide new insights that can help keep you out of the resentment trap. Go through this process in person or on the phone—not through email or text, which can be easily misconstrued.
Confront the situation directly
You may feel completely wronged and misunderstood, and it may be infuriating to think of having to “make nice” with the coworker you’re in conflict with. If you can show that you’re more invested in your job than your hurt feelings, you may reap a powerful reward. Taking the high road will demonstrate your own value in a way that will produce more support from your supervisors.
Earlier in his career, a colleague of mine wound up in a conflict with a coworker that seemed to come out of left field. “I honestly had no idea what I had done to upset him,” he said. “So I was reluctant to even acknowledge there was a problem.”
Since they were on the same project and under pressure to deliver, he decided to confront the situation directly. He invited the person to lunch and was transparent about his intentions. “I told him I was concerned and confused, and offered the possibility that I might have offended him unintentionally.” By creating a safe space for the conversation, he set his coworker at ease.
It took the better part of their cheeseburgers to figure out that they were inadvertently treading on each other’s toes. “Actually, it was a great thing we talked,” he said. “Neither of us was to blame, but we never would have known.”
If you do have to take your feud to your boss, make sure you’ve exhausted the possibility of a solution by completing these three steps first. Managers generally prefer to stay out of conflicts.
There’s always a first time for an office conflict, and there probably won’t be a last. If you have the experience of successfully defusing a feud, you’ll have the confidence and the presence of mind to resolve others in the future.
That said, if the other person simply won’t engage productively, remember these two cardinal rules: First, absolutely no grousing on social media, even your personal accounts. Keep it professional. Second, take care of yourself. Create some space and get outside the office. Work it out of your system with a great yoga class, a good run, cooking an amazing meal, or doing something that reminds you there’s more to life than a conflict at work.
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