August 8, 2010
Anger management: Strategies to resolve conflicts with co-workers
The Associated Press
Kadie Black, an outreach coordinator for a Miami kids agency, felt as if her co-worker didn’t carry her weight on a team project. Rather than confront the co-worker, Black mentioned it to another colleague who repeated the comments publicly. Friction soon permeated the workplace, making it uncomfortable for the two women to work together.
Conflicts in the workplace are unavoidable. But the number of conflicts is increasing as workers do more with less and stress levels jump. More than half of all employees say they lost work time worrying about confrontation with a co-worker, according to a survey by researchers at the University of North Carolina.
Most of us, like Black, have learned that when you stew about a co-worker who dumps on you or a boss who attacks you in a meeting, the situation usually only gets worse with time. “If I had to do it again, I would’ve had that conversation and nipped it in the bud,” Black says.
Speaking up: heart-healthy?
When workplace irritation goes unmentioned, your heart takes notice. A Tilburg University study published in the April issue of “The American Journal of Cardiology” found that those with a Type D personality, known to suppress their anger, had almost triple the risk of having a heart attack over the next five to 10 years. Anger alone was not linked to increased negative health.
According to a study by the authors of “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” 95 percent of workers struggle to speak up to their colleagues about concerns. Instead, they use tactics such as complaining, getting angry, doing unnecessary work and avoiding the other person.
“The price of inaction is high,” says Donna Flagg, author of “Surviving Dreaded Conversations: How to Talk Through Any Difficult Situation at Work.” Whether you are dealing with performance, attitude or personality differences, speak up, but do it carefully, she says.
Here are some difficult situations at work and strategies for constructively resolving them.
Your co-worker or boss is confrontational. Resolving conflict may require some honest talk about what that person is doing that irks you. It’s easier than you think, Flagg says.
Whether you need to approach your boss, co-worker, employee or customer, the first step is the same: Figure out your main points, set up the conversation in your head and practice. Make it clear why what is happening is a problem, why it’s worth it to solve the conflict and what a good outcome would be.
Disagreements or performance issues become personal. When confronting someone at work about performance, personal issues often come up. Keep the conversation on the message.
Angie Mahy, a program administrator with the Center for Family and Child Enrichment, says that each time she sets out to talk to a particular employee who fails to make deadlines, he cries, throws a tantrum or makes an excuse about a personal situation.
Mahy attended a workshop where Flagg described personalities and character traits and how to manage them. “I now know the framework to deal with this personality,” Mahy says. “This is a business issue, and regardless of how the person reacts, I need to stick to my message and deal with the facts.”
A workplace friendship/partnership has soured. A lawyer recently complained that he has constant conflict with his business partner, and this creates an uncomfortable workplace for all. Some conflicts are so entrenched that they need an outside perspective. That’s when you need to bring in a third party, such as a human-resources employee, mediator or manager from another office or department.
A co-worker is going after your customers or clients. Fear of layoffs has made some workers ultracompetitive. If you don’t understand a co-worker’s actions, ask rather than assume bad faith. Of course, you need to ask nicely, such as “I noticed that you called my customer yesterday. Why is that?”
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