Love hate relationships and passive aggressive behavior, we all know it too well. From Blair and Serena in Gossip Girl, “the plastics” in Mean Girls or even your relationship with your mother in law – don’t deny it – we all have this borderline gossip-y relationship in our lives, which is great. But what if this happens in a professional setting? What if it affects your work? What if it brings into question your work ethic? Would you be as happy-go-lucky discussing it, or would you want to do something about it?
Let's look at how Babz would handle this…
“With all due respect, you can go f*** yourself”. There, I said it – you’ve been condescending and tried to undermine my abilities time and time again and I’m sick of your sh*t. The only problem, I wasn’t thinking this in my head. I lost my cool and in a flash, let it out, unfortunately, it was in a meeting with my manager, and several others. I had failed at being the bigger person, I had practiced it so hard as well - UGH. My face was red, I looked around to a stunned silence before uncomfortably continuing our meeting. Unfortunately, all I could think about from that moment on is how my butt was going to be served on a plate afterward, and with all honesty probably get fired in the process. But through all these negative thoughts, there was one feeling I couldn’t shake, and that was that I didn’t regret it, and I’m glad I stood my ground for what I believe in – where do you draw the line on being pushed around?
Side note: As soon as anybody says with all due respect, you know it’s about to go down like a hoedown.
Does most of this seem familiar to you? Even if you’ve never acted on it, we’ve all had that situation where all we want to do is shove a pie in somebody’s face and tell them to take a hike. But I think the most natural tendency for most people is to play the bigger person card and ignore it altogether, bottling up emotions and choosing to selectively unleash it at a later stage – away from your coworkers naturally. While this is ok in the short term, is not the solution to your problem and you need to identify issues before they even happen. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.
The truth is, work (particularly leadership) and conflict are like ying and yang - they go hand in hand. People are passionate about what they do and might not necessarily be the same tune as what you think – that’s perfectly ok. What we, as professionals, cannot condone is not addressing it altogether or worse, tip-toeing around the problem till it slowly dissolves away – it will come back and smack you in the face. This honestly stems out of your workplace into your social life as well, why tell your best friend about how this person was being a grade A, grass fed organic ass-wipe instead of addressing the issue with the person itself and, I don’t know, maybe come up with a solution?
PEOPLE HATE CONFLICT. Well, most do anyway. Life they say is all about compromises, but they never tell you what the split is – would you be shocked to find that it’s not 50/50?
So the ultimate question now is, how do we safely negotiate these potentially turbulent waters?
When it comes to workplace conflicts, there are 2 types of incidents and need to be handled slightly differently.
First, we have the abominable workplace bully. This individual while might not affect your work, he/she could affect your surroundings. They rear their ugly head in a few ways.
- The chameleon: The Jekyl and Hyde situation, where an individual can be a few different people at once and mask their shortcomings – usually to the people that matter most.
- The Assassin: This person defames you behind your back, and you typically only find out when somebody brings it up to you – too late at that point I reckon.
When dealing with a bully, you have to use your wits a little bit and always be one step ahead. The biggest thing is to not be baited by the small things designed to get your attention and squeeze it like a bladder when you need to pee (graphic but you definitely understand what I’m saying).
First off, talk to them. Be candid and ask why there seems to be a disconnect. Be smart about such situations and sort of turn the tables, ask what they would do differently, how they would better manage a situation or what they think next steps should be. Another is to document instances and situations with your manager, hopefully, they will step in and mediate the situation. If it does persist then affirmative action must be taken, but please remember that you are not the judge of what that should be and follow channels to maintain your integrity and professionalism. Be the bigger person.
The second is more professionally prevalent to most workplace conflicts. This is the lack of information and expression of extreme emotion. These 2 play into one mega blob of discontent and invariably leads to lack of effective communication, after communications lost, it really is anybody’s guess how things transpire.
A lack of information, or misinformation, is most common when dealing with multiple arms. Although it might not be intentional, it does have severe ramifications when groups are working together.
Emotion is a wildcard, it is super dangerous because of its unpredictability and has to be fenced with carefully and concisely because you never know what that individual is dealing with outside the realms of your interaction.
When dealing with this kind of incident, there are ways to nip it in the bud early enough to avoid it spiraling out of control.
Although clearly hypocritical on my part based on most recent events, the first thing you need to do is be calm (I failed here this time, clearly) Once you’re slightly more in touch and breathed in and out several times, try to listen and understand what the problem is, and not how your response should be.
When attempting to pacify situations, try to accentuate the positives, people are generally happier when you have some commonality of an agreement. Find that before presenting your point tactfully and lead the conversation smartly.
The next part, although probably the hardest, is the most necessary. Do not play the blame game and avoid attacking the person and consciously focus only on the problem and attack that. This might be hard because it is a 2-way street.
You’ve also got to realize at some point that you need to pick your battles, despite everybody’s need to be right, you need to assess what’s in it for you and the future scope of the project, or interactions with certain individuals.
At the end of the day, what really matters to you? Do you think it’s worth your time to react and respond? There is a common goal for everybody, don’t make silly decisions that could cost you!
In summary, when it comes to dealing with workplace bullies and ambiguity, try to keep the following in mind:
- Do not view conflict as a negative facet of work. If used constructively, it is a great learning opportunity.
- Don’t be baited by small “instigators”. Always look at the bigger picture.
- As much as you may hate it, try and find out what that person would do if in your situation. Don’t discount the potential of receiving useful advice, or forcing that individual to see that they're just talking and little action – maybe they’ll change color.
- Document and keep lines of communication open with your manager, if you see something, say something. After all, there is no issue until it’s too late. Try to nip it out early.
- Be as calm as possible and listen to what the issues at hand are! No matter how difficult.
- Communication is key, always try to have things out in the open and approach it diplomatically.
- Attempt to accentuate the other person's contributions and find commonality, it’s the smart way to get to an amicable conclusion.
- Attack the problem, not the person – never blame anybody unless absolutely necessary!
- Pick your battles wisely
- Understand that there is an emotional aspect and you should always keep that at the back of your head. Although unacceptable to mix work and personal, we are human and sometimes we just need a hand to hold.
Just to circle back to my story, the next day we sat down and communicated our issues offline and came to mutually beneficial conclusions and bro-hugged it out. Things happen, passions flair, there won’t ever be animosity and at the end of the day, we both agreed that the team and its objectives should always come first. All’s well that ends well.
What I will say is that, such an incident should never happen again. There is a certain etiquette at the workplace and in a moment of madness I compromised it and although it worked out in the end, I strongly recommend following a set game plan for dealing with such individuals diplomatically – I learned this the hard way, but I’ll never forget it. This article would be very different had I been fired the next day. Don’t risk it for something that isn’t worth your stress.
Till next time y’all!
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