Whether you love your job or you hate it, there are going to be some days when your co-workers make you want to three-hole-punch a cubicle wall. In fights with your parents, siblings or S.O., you have a little bit more leeway when it comes to blowing a fuse, but when there’s a conflict at work, the rules are totally different. Because they come from HR. If you’re stressed out about a conflict with a co-worker, here are some tips to help you keep your cool — and your job.
1. Recognize that there’s conflict because you care. Disagreements at work are inevitable, particularly if your company’s in the middle of major changes like a merger or realigning a business strategy. If you’re engaged and passionate about your job and you feel like you’re constantly voicing the outside opinion or butting heads with your co-workers, that’s not necessarily a bad thing — as long as you do it respectfully.
2. Before you lose it, think about how you’ll feel months from now. If you plan on sticking with this job for awhile, it’s definitely worth resolving an argument with an officemate as smoothly as possible. But even if you’re dead set on leaving, don’t give into the temptation to flip the conference room table — or flip everyone the bird — on your way out. If you give into anger, you could burn a bridge with valuable contacts and future references who might disagree with how you handled the situation, and it’ll make it a lot tougher to answer that “Tell us about a time when you had a conflict at work” interview question and come out smelling like roses.
3. Don’t put out a bulletin on the office gossip line. If you’re having an issue with someone at work, keep it quiet. Not only is it unprofessional to go around bitching to your mutual colleagues, it could also backfire on you if what you say is repeated. Plus, it unfairly drags in other people and might make them uncomfortable working with you or that co-worker in the future when they wouldn’t have otherwise. If you really need to vent, you can furiously type it out to your friends on Gchat.
4. Ask what’s up and clear the air. As with any disagreement, it’s much better to address an issue that’s bothering you head-on than to let it fester while you wait for the other person to apologize. They may have no idea they did anything to upset you (how were they supposed to know that was your yogurt in the office fridge?). Without being accusatory or assuming that they purposely set out to upset you, ask them to explain why they did or said something a certain way. The answer might have nothing to do with you at all.
5. Schedule some face time. It’s so easy to misinterpret tone over email or Slack, even if you’re couching every statement with smiley emoticons. And the written-word wars only escalate if you’re both already feeling defensive. If you’re having an issue with a co-worker, it’s best to sit down with them to discuss it face-to-face.
6. Be careful with your words. You should never storm into someone’s office ready to throw all the blame on them. Recognize your role in the conflict, and apologize if necessary. If it really does feel one-sided, it’s still best to avoid putting things in terms of “you did this” or “I hate when you” or “what the eff were you thinking when you,” etc. Try something like “I noticed in the meeting that X, and I felt…” or “When you do this, it makes me feel…” Really, this is a standard tip that will help you with arguments anywhere, even outside your nine-to-five.
7. Find a mediator. If the conflict is too big or volatile for you and your co-worker to resolve among yourselves — we’re talking without reserving the conference room for a 2pm death match — you might need to ask a boss or HR manager for help (especially if you think your co-worker is coming at you for reasons that are discriminatory). If they’re lashing out or just plain not letting you talk, calmly press pause on the conversation and suggest that you bring in someone to help the two of you finish talking things through. It should be someone that both of you trust to be impartial — so, not your work wife who you eat lunch with every day.
8. Go back to your desk, take a deep breath and watch clips of The Office on YouTube. If all else fails, rest assured that there are far worse co-workers out there than yours. Whether they’re British or American.
How do you handle conflict at work? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)