”The highest compact we can make with our fellow is, – ‘Let there be truth between us two forever more.'” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~
Workplace conflict is inevitable and almost everyone who has spent time working with others has experienced this. Whether there may be misunderstandings, power struggles or rude and belligerent behavior, workplace conflict causes stress, drains energy and impedes the possibility to do our job to the best of our ability. The good news is that we don’t have to sit back and allow ourselves to become victims; we can take a proactive approach and take charge of our workplace relationships. If a coworker has said or done something that is taking up emotional space inside of us, there are a number of things we can do. Unless the other person is closed, committed to right fighting or holding a grudge, you have a good chance of making some progress in using these steps. Either way, you will feel better after saying what you need to say and having done your best. If all goes well, and the other person shares your interest in mending fences, you could end up with a better relationship with this person than you would have thought possible.
Wait until strong emotions have settled
Before approaching your coworker, wait until your emotions have settled down and you can think and speak in a calm tone of voice. Wait until you are in a situation that is relatively stress free and the other person and yourself are both calm before you ask to speak to them. Make your intentions clear at the start of the conversation. Your colleague will naturally be defensive and may assume that you want to continue the conflict. Assure them from the beginning that you want to develop a better workplace relationship and that your intent is to look for ways to resolve your differences.
Acknowledge your part and apologize if you need to
If you have regrets about the way you handled yourself in the situation, apologize sincerely and without reservation. Acknowledge any part that you feel you may have had in creating the conflict. If you overreacted, start off by acknowledging your role, even though at the time your ‘buttons’ were being pushed. By starting off talking about what you could have done differently, you allow your colleague to lower their defensive shield and look at their own behaviors that may have contributed to the situation.
Ask them to tell you how their perception of the situation
As the person you are having problems with will expect you will begin sharing your grievances, allowing them to speak first will lower their defensiveness. This will also be a clear indicator that you are seriously interested in a resolution. If they feel they weren’t heard the first time, which is quite likely, this will give them another opportunity. Lowering the defensiveness and tone of the conversation will allow both of you the chance to look at the situation in a new light and the opportunity to become aware of areas that you had not thought of in the heat of the moment.
Listen and keep quiet until they are finished speaking
Instead of formulating your response while the other person is speaking, pretend you are going to have to write down everything they said. Focus on listening to their words and the emotions behind those words.
Repeat back what you heard them say
After they have finished, instead of coming up with a rebuttal or counter argument, repeat back in your own words what you heard them say. Let them know they have been heard by repeating back, in your own words, “What I heard you say was …”. Let them know that you were aware of the emotions behind what they were saying and check-in with them to see if you are correct. Just letting your coworker know they were heard, regardless if you agree or not, will go a long way in getting their support in solving your problem.
Give your version, sticking to the data of what happened
When it is your turn to talk, stick to the events as they happened and avoid making judgments about why the other person acted the way they did. An example could be, if they did not show up for a scheduled meeting. Talk about how that impacted the other people in the meeting, but don’t accuse them of not caring about the other team members. Let them tell you why they didn’t show up for the meeting. Often it is accusations and judgments regarding the situation or events that trigger strong reactions. These can often be avoided by sticking to the facts and giving the other person the opportunity to explain themselves.
Work on a solution and agreement
Ask them how you could do things differently in the future to prevent the same outcome from happening again. Search together for something you can agree on and commit to doing this from now on. Take the lead and come up with something that you can do differently in situations that come up in the future. Hopefully your colleague will follow suite and commit to a more effective way of handling situations that arise in the future. If all goes well, this could lead to a closer and more effective working relationship down the road. If not, and you feel that your co-worker is avoiding taking any responsibility for their actions, know that you did your best. Having gone through this process will provide you with lessons and tools that will help you in developing better relationships at work in the future.