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Dealing with Workplace Confrontations

Being wronged at the workplace is bad enough and then having to confront the person who may have wronged you, can get even more stressful and hurtful. Office conflicts are common and sometimes inevitable, and the only option is to deal with them positively and professionally.

Confronting a colleague is not easy, but it is possible. When things are not going right in the office, here is how to keep your cool, address the issue, and even build stronger relationships with your co-workers in the process.

Give the Benefit of Doubt

Before you jump to conclusions it is essential that you start with the assumption that others may have acted with the best of intentions—and that you might not know the whole story. I once received a phone call from a co-worker telling me that another teammate of ours had described progress on a big project in a meeting (that I had to miss), and had not once mentioned my name or contributions. Of course, this was upsetting and the next day I asked that co-worker to grab a cup of coffee with me. I calmly told her what I had heard (without accusing her), and how it made me feel.

It turned out, that I did not have all the information. The co-worker who initially called me had reached the meeting 10 minutes late and missed the beginning of the meeting—the part where my partner explained that everything the group was about to hear was the result of our teamwork and every member's contribution.

So instead of assuming and allowing resentment to build, when you hear something that upsets you, go straight to the source and ask for clarification. You might be surprised.

Avoid the Urge to Email

Very few people enjoy confrontation, and most of us do what we can to avoid it—including hiding behind the safety of an email with no face-to-face interaction. Unfortunately, this only aggravates the problem. No matter how much you dislike confrontation, or how malicious you think your co-worker has been, watch carefully what you say over email. The wordings on an email speak louder than verbal chats and can come out harse, only aggravating the problem further. Refrain from shooting off that strongly worded email and instead, ask for a face-to-face conversation.

Sit Down and Talk

Even if the issue is deeper than just a simple misunderstanding, talking is just about always the best place to start. Find a time to sit down privately with your colleague and talk with him/her about your concerns. Spell out specifically what she did or (wat you heard she did)—for example, “I heard you did not mention my contributions when you were presenting our work to the VP on Thursday” is a whole lot better than “you never give me credit for what I do.” Explain how it made you feel or why it upsets you, but also try to offer a solution. By focusing on what you can both do differently moving forward, rather than dwelling on the offense, you can build trust, resolve the issue faster, and help to avoid additional misunderstandings.

For example, say you heard that your co-worker is complaining that you are getting to spearhead a new project. You could say: “Amy, I understand that you’re concerned about how we are moving forward with this project, but I wish that you had come to me before talking to others. I’m happy to share my plans and ideas with you, and I would love your input. Are there specific questions you have that I can answer?” Also, avoid being too aggressive (in body language and tone)—otherwise, you will just put her on the defensive.

Write Down the Details

You do not want to bring your manager in on every problem you are having with every person—especially if it is a trivial matter. But it is also important to protect yourself in case the offense is not just a one-time thing—especially if it impacts your work or your professional relationships. If the issue could be serious, keep a written record of the incidents and your conversations with your colleague. It is likely that you won’t need it, but should the conflict escalate, you will want to be able to show how you have handled the situation proactively and professionally.

Pick Your Battles

Finally, keep in mind that you do not have to confront everyone, every time—making an issue out of every little thing will only create unnecessary tension in the office. So, next time you’re upset about that colleague who always has to have the last word in a meeting, take a breather. Think about the problem, and consider whether or not it’s really something you need to go to the mat for.

In the end, save your energy for real problems—someone who’s not pulling her weight on a team project or who’s deliberately undermining you—and let the little stuff go.

No matter where you are in life or the office hierarchy, you are bound to experience conflict in the workplace. But knowing how to deal with it effectively, with professionalism and flexibility, is the ticket to getting ahead. And at the end of the day, that’s really all you can control.


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