Did you ever have a co-worker that started out really nice and but then after granting them one favour, you cannot get rid of them? Do you have a supervisor or a report with whom you constantly get into arguments due to misunderstandings. We often get caught up psychologically in these kinds of problems, sometimes even physically.
Unfortunately, this is the type of situation is quite common. Fear not! There are straightforward solutions – the book Working With You is Killing Me examines a wide variety of situations at work. These include:
- Problems due to lacking set personal boundaries
- Conflicts with co-workers
- Conflicts with Supervisors
- Conflicts with subordinates
Each section describes types of situations that occur in the workplace, and then illustrates them with examples. Even though I may not have lived many of them, I have certainly had people talk to me about them. Imagine a situation where a coworker ask to use your desk phone over the lunch break one day, and from that day onward they go to your office on a regular basis to use your phone without your permission. Rather than saying somthing, many of us try to avoid conflict at all cost, thus accepting the constant stress that this entails.
Fear not! No matter the situation there are many steps that we can do to solve these situations:
1. Unhook physically
When we have a serious conflict, our blood pressure rises, our breathing quickens, we start sweating, along with a variety of other physical symptoms. The first step to solve conflicts involves disconnecting from the symptoms in the body. To do this, we need to take a deep breath, limber up, do some exercise to release some of that tension. This leads us to the next step.
2. Unhook mentally
One we have calmed the physical symptoms, now we need to try to separate mentally from the problems that were triggered at the start. The big factor here is to remember that the behaviours that trigger us are very rarely personal; other people’s behaviour are due to the circumstances they are living at the time, and their personality. Furthermore, we need to take stock of the situation: what is happening? What is our role? (e.g. letting someone use your space.) What is their role? (e.g. using my desk without explicit permission.) What are my options? (e.g. let it go on and go crazy, talk to them to put a stop to it, get a supervisor to intervene.) Actually selecting a solution then boils down to rational analysis and choice. There, the solution depends on the initial problem, but normally involves setting our own boundaries that address the problem.
3. Unhook verbally
The next step is to communicate our decision with the other person involved.
4. Unhook with business tools
This final steps is to confirm the issues communicated in step 3 either by referring to tools that are already in place (e. g. employee guidelines, or an employer’s manual), or just reiterating over the conversation and setting expectations for the future.
The crux of these steps lies in two simple ideas: 1) The best solution is most often clear with a level head, so we first need to cool down and disconnect before looking for it, and 2) other people’s behaviours are very rarely about you. I love the way Olin Miller put it: “You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do. “
The other intuition that often comes into play in these situations is the desire to get other people to improve (or to look at it another way, to prove that they are wrong). The is rarely effective though, as self-change has to be internally motivated, and in many cases people are more prone to reinforce their beliefs rather than change them when confronted with outside forces.
So the next time you have a workplace conflict, remember: relax, disconnect and decide, then talk about it, and finish with follow-up. Do it enough, and it will become a habit that will keep your mind clear and your working days pleasant!
This article is based on the book “Working with you is killing me” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. I bought the book on Kindle. It came recommended by Josée Blaquière, a leadership coach for a leadership and project management retreat I took recently. I did not make any money by writing the article, but make a small commission for purchases through affiliate links.