The corporate environment is not the most forgiving and encouraging for intense emotions and big personalities. However, it is not short of clashes of characters and situations where anger and conflicts arise. How are you supposed to deal with your emotions whilst keeping your professional image intact? Here are 7 actions you can take if an infuriating conflict arises at work:
All emotions are natural, whether positive or negative. Expressing them is the best way to stay balanced. Because when you hold it back, your emotion does not go away. Instead, it becomes suppressed and either starts attacking you internally or gets redirected in inappropriate ways.
According to Darren Deslatte, Vulnerability Operations Leader at Entrust Solutions:
“Conflict and even anger can arise in any workplace, from a bustling restaurant where the cooks and waitstaff are constantly interacting with each other and their customers, to a tech company where employees spend most of their time on their computers and at their desks. It’s important every worker knows how to handle conflict in order to maintain a positive, productive work environment for everyone. Developing strong communication skills is key to improving your conflict-resolution skills. The first step is recognizing what you’re feeling and why, so you can try to clearly communicate the problem and work toward a resolution.”
Such expression can be as simple as saying to the other person ‘I feel angry.’ This statement of fact, either expressed directly to the colleague making you angry or said to a third person who is willing to listen, can have the positive effects of calming you down and empowering you to act professionally. Because it acknowledges and respects your emotions.
If you are feeling angry before a difficult conversation, try taking a few minutes out to get ready mentally. You don’t have to call it meditation if you don’t like the term. In reality, it’s just ‘take a deep breath and relax.’
A lot of corporate offices now have a contemplation room. It can provide a calm, uninterrupted space for engaging with your own mind. I once took 10 minutes out before approaching someone I had an argument with recently. It allowed me to sit calmly with my nerves, observe my anxiety, and create a safe space in my mind where I could return to if anger arose. In that space, there is no judgment, no pressure to be right, and no fear of being undermined. It helped me find the courage to initiate the conversation afterwards.
Sometimes the best way to deal with conflicts is by not getting into one. When someone you are speaking to is getting agitated, you may say to them that you can sense they are feeling emotional and maybe it is best to discuss business another time. Remember, it is not your responsibility to calm them down. Many times in the past, I took on the duty of appeasing the other person. Despite handling the situation calmly and diplomatically, I often ended up feeling bruised afterward and having to spend time recovering emotionally. By not taking responsibility for your colleague’s emotions, you save time and energy for more productive things.
According to Mitch Chailland, President of Canal HR:
“When dealing with conflict in the workplace, it’s most important to remain calm and keep your interactions with others as respectful as possible. Whether you’re an HR manager or someone involved in a conflict at work, remember that disagreements or misunderstandings can’t be resolved without all parties agreeing to a baseline level of mutual respect. This respect is necessary to getting to know where someone else is coming from and how your actions affect each other.”
Swear (in private)
Ideally don’t try this in the office, but swearing can be a good way to vent and calm down. What I’m suggesting here really is to let the steam out. Don’t supress your anger. If it helps, go to an area where you can cry out loud, punch a bag or shout out some profanities. You may find sports like boxing or squash help satisfy your need for some aggression too. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be aggressive when you are angry. It is much healthier to find a safe outlet for your emotions than deny it altogether or lash out inappropriately.
Sometimes there is no way that you could communicate with the other person effectively because he or she would only listen to someone higher up. In the corporate world, which is often hierarchical, you may need the help of an authority figure to resolve a conflict. If you choose this route, be factual and fair in your recount of the events. Acknowledge your responsibilities as well as those of the other person. Even if your boss cannot help you resolve the conflict directly, their awareness of the incident can help bring a sense of justice and recourse.
Once you have calmed down, some introspection can help you find ways to avoid the same situation in the future. What was it that made you so angry? Have you been in similar scenarios in the past? How would you like to react next time if it happens again? It prepares you much more effectively to think it through during peaceful times than in the heat of the moment.
Conflicts usually arise from the dynamics between two people’s insecurities. For example, a person with an inferiority complex is often very sensitive to any perceived criticism from colleagues. Because they are terrified of not being good enough. What they often do when they feel undermined is to turn it around and start undermining you. Now, if at some level you are also afraid of being undermined, then his/her attempt to threaten your ego will trigger your insecurity too. You may then start attacking back as a way of defence.
By reflecting and understanding the dynamics, you will be able to identify the root cause of the conflict and avoid getting tangled up in your colleague’s attempt to project their own fears onto you next time.
Despite the sophisticated and aloof impression that the corporate world often gives, empathy goes a long way in the office. When emotions run high, it usually involves pain from the person’s past. At times, we all feel vulnerable and need comforting, even if we don’t know how to ask for it. Whilst offering your colleague a counselling session is tricky, you can still psychologically empathise with them.
What makes a person feel the need to defend themselves all the time? Usually fear. We are all human beings dealing with our own insecurities. The more strongly someone reacts to a situation, the more it indicates that their fears are intense. Acknowledging that the other person is struggling can help you let down your guard and be the bigger person.
When dealing with difficult people at work, the best tip I’ve ever received is ‘Treat them as if they are already the person you want them to be.’ This mentality creates a positive energy field which encourages the other person to behave in ways that you wish to see. Because they feel trusted and respected by you. This is especially useful if a conflict has arisen between you previously.
I once worked with a colleague who was strongly opposed to taking instructions from anyone but his direct line manager. This created a problem for me as the project lead, which later blew up in an argument between us. I was furious and frustrated, hoping that I never had to work with him again. When I had to manage him on another project 5 months later, I was nervous. This time, however, I decided to put aside any prejudice I held against him and treated him like a competent, reliable colleague who was pleasant to work with. It turned out he was! Not only did we make good progress together on the project, but he also happily took on the parts of the project that I assigned to him plus some ad hoc tasks I needed his help with.
When we are willing to receive others as decent human beings, they are much more likely to behave like one. In that sense, a relationship is just like a mirror. It reflects what you project into it. This is true for personal and professional relationships. When it comes to dealing with anger and conflicts at work, acknowledge the humanness of you and your colleagues. Allow time and space for emotions to flow. And a good understanding of relationship dynamics will go a long way.