One of the most conflict-ridden situations is that moment when our emotions take over our ability to respond thoughtfully, especially to a disagreement with a colleague. No matter how much conflict resolution or management communications training we’ve had, we all face the time when it does no good whatsoever and we say something we are immediately sorry for, or do something that damages our reputations and relationships, no matter the reason. It’s a tough situation from which to recover, and there are no easy answers. We all know we should breathe deeply, count to ten, or do whatever we ought to do to manage our own feelings in the moment, but also in the moment, that advice might not make much difference.
There seem to be a spate of articles addressing this issue lately, so here are a few suggestions.
1. Let it go. Let the comment that pushed your buttons go for the moment until you have time and enough emotional control to decide what actually needs to be done, if anything. Taking the time to get your feelings under control helps you understand what response is really necessary. If you can let the moment go and not obsess about it or spend time thinking of all the smart, clever, snarky (?) responses you’ll make next time, then maybe the incident didn’t need a response at all. If you can’t let the moment go, then see items two and three below.
2. Delay and get some perspective. Allow that rational voice screaming in your head to be fully heard, the one that says, Wait a minute! What will happen if you respond the way you want to? Think about what others will remember about how you responded and what they will think of you. Will that damage your reputation? How will you feel about this incident in the future? Will the cause of the disagreement mean as much in a month or so? Don’t say anything for a bit, and then explain, if an explanation is necessary, that you need to think about what has happened before responding. Then walk away, at the very least, to get your emotions under control so you can plan a thoughtful and appropriate response.
3. Put your emotions aside and focus on your management responsibility. Consider whether what caused the argument is a continuing behavior or a one-off. If it’s unusual, then be very thoughtful and see if you can identify the source of the response and help the other person deal with whatever is going on. If it is recurring behavior, then plan on how to address it, getting some help with the plan if you need it. In addition, consider your working relationship. If your future success in the organization means working with this person, then get some help in planning how to communicate effectively or even on working on anther team. If you don’t want to consult your manager (or if the manager is the source of the conflict), or if consulting with HR seems like an unnecessary escalation, then talk to a good friend or mentor at work who understands the players and on whose confidentiality you can count.
These situations at work can have significant effects on your professional future, as they demonstrate whether you handled them well or badly. So:
- get emotional distance from the immediate situation;
- decide if a response is really necessary;
- define the clear goal or results you want from responding;
- plan the most appropriate response carefully; and
- make it work.
Do what you think is right with full understanding of the potential consequences, and then have an absolutely wonderful, peaceful week.