Conflicts of Interest Blog by Vivian Scott
Continuing the Dirty Dozen list of 12 behaviors that cause conflict at work and then are attributed to the catchall phrase, “personality clashes”, let’s yell #4 from the rooftops!
Some employees like to say, “Unless you’re bleeding, choking, or there’s a fire, I don’t need to know about it.” On the other end of the spectrum there are those want to take the smallest glitch and make it a Federal case—complete with imaginary TV coverage and expert commentary.
Big reactions with big voices and big gesticulations often stem from a lack of information and a whole lot of assuming. They also seem to happen when people are especially tired, stressed, or under a lot of pressure. And, what workplace doesn’t experience stress or pressure? It’s expected that you and your peers will snap at each other once in a while. Feeling slighted by a comment or a being worried about a missed deadline isn’t that unusual. Throwing a fit and getting into a spitting match in the middle of the hallway, though, is over-reacting.
There are two important things to remember about over-reacting. First, the more emotional the response, the more you know that the real issue is probably not the one being discussed. Secondly, the more emotional someone is the less they’re going to be able to reason with you. Instead of responding with your own snarky retort take a breath and let the person vent for a minute. Give them some space and come back to the topic when things aren’t so raw. Consider a few open-ended questions or calming comments that will help you uncover what the reaction is really about. For example, say something like, “I can see this is really upsetting. What’s most bothersome about it for you? Help me understand this reaction.” If they’re not able to answer in a way that makes sense to you, either keep asking or suggest you talk another time when you’re both better prepared.
If you’re the one who’s about to blow up or cry or stomp out, ask for some time so you can decipher what it is about the issue that is causing you to want to react poorly. Is it really that the report came in 15 minutes late or that your coworker makes you feel unimportant all too often? You may have to find some quiet time to work through your emotions or you may find it helpful to ask someone to listen while you rant about the situation until you’ve reached a conclusion regarding the real issue. Either way, stepping back from an over-reaction (yours or theirs) gives you both the opportunity to return with clearer heads so you have a better chance of putting out the right fire.
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