What to do when relationships at work go sideways Relationship help extends to the workplace where we can find ourselves thrust together with other folks we may or may not like, respect or appreciate.

Hopefully, you are in the perfect place with the perfect people, but, just in case you're not, I'm going to share a few thoughts about managing workplace conflicts with tips for warming  a cold office climate.

What to do?  There is someone at work you really have difficulty liking.  It may be mild or it may be on your mind long before you get to the office in the morning.  This can have a devastating effect on your day, not to mention on your career.  Recently it was reported that, aside from promotion and better salary, most people leave their positions because of expressed or unexpressed conflict at work.  So, you're in good company!

That information is stunning because it demonstrates the need for pro-active communication and conflict management training in the workplace.  Equip yourself with these skills.  They will be endlessly useful in all areas of your life.  When I work on these skills with corporate and business groups, you can feel the relief in the air.  Folks feel a greater sense of self-confidence when they have the skills to confront difficulties.  Makes sense, doesn't it? If your workplace is suffering, work with your employer to have the issue recognized and addressed.  Just one or two days of training can make an enormous difference.

Think of the lack of productivity that the stress of conflict creates.  Who can attend to their work when they are concerned about possible confrontations, accusations or 'cold shoulders'?  People have feelings.  Feelings are powerful.  Fear is one of the most powerful, and that's what's showing up when you work in a tension-filled environment.  There is enough tension in the creativity and the deadlines that normal, productive work creates.  Who needs tension caused by fear, poor communication and small minds?

 The first and most important thing to do is to examine your own behavior.

  • How are you treating that person you perceive as difficult?
  • Is there anything in your posture, facial expression or tone of voice that prevents friendly interaction?
  • Are there any previous misunderstandings that you've left floating on the air?
  • Have you said anything to anyone about the person in question that could have gotten back to them?
  • Do you have resentments with good reason, e.g., they took credit for your work, or,they are lazy and it makes more work for you?
  • Are you angry at yourself for not having the skills, competence, confidence or willingness to talk things out with them?

Often, when you have already decided that you don't like someone, or that they don't like you, that attitude is conveyed in your non-verbal communication.   Work on yourself first.

 Invite the other person out to lunch or coffee.

Are I kidding?  No, I'm not. Bite the bullet and ask them. This is a discovery time.  Learn more about them.

  • Are they having difficulties in their life outside the workplace?
  • What interests them?
  • What have they done in their career to date?
  • What have their greatest successes been?
  • What might you have in common that could move your relationship in a better direction?

Spend this time learning. When you're quiet and they talk, you learn. P.S. This is true in every relationship!

OK, you have nothing in common.  They were miserable and close-mouthed.   Nothing good came from it.  Good.  You now know that you made the effort and can rest comfortably with that.

Next step, ask them for a meeting in the office.

This takes courage, but, how much courage is it currently taking just to show up every day in the face of these difficulties anyway?   NOTE: this is not a 'let-me-fix-you' type of meeting.   Prepare for the meeting by creating a list of open-ended questions that will hopefully create discussion between you. Open-ended questions are ones that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. They require thoughts, opinions and ideas,  such as:

  • How can we improve the relationship between us?
  • What can we do to work together more collaboratively?
  • (If you've had a previous altercation) ...What would it take for us to make a fresh start together?

Indicate your willingness to create a workable relationship.

What if the other person is not even mildly interested in conversing about change? 

That is when you have a decision to make.  Live with it, or take it to the next level.  The next level involves bringing a third person into the conversation, a person who is willing to manage the situation because it is in the best interest of the workplace.  A mediator may be offered.  There may be other people on your team who are experiencing the same difficulties with the same person.  This makes change more imperative for your superior.  Point out the benefits of managing this issue to the company.

No matter how it seems, no one really likes conflict.  Some people create it because it makes them feel they have a modicum of control.  Others create it as a cover for how little they are doing.  Others have their own reasons and needs for keeping things in an uproar.  You, though, are always at choice.  You can always do something to remove the tension somewhat.  Sometimes, yes, it might even mean making a career shift.  Sometimes, it's worth it, but only after you have done everything in your power to improve things.

Confrontation is not a four-letter word, but 'cold' is!  Communicate in positive ways and see if you can warm it up a little around your office.

If I can help with training, coaching, consulting or mediation, give me a call! 


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