Listen and ask questions — Listen for and try to interpret the underlying reasons behind a person’s comments. Look for evidence of hurt or fear. Gently ask questions for clarification in such a way that won’t cause defensiveness. Demonstrate understanding, even if you don’t agree with them. Acknowledge their comments but let them know your own thoughts on the issue. Speak in an objective, calm voice with a quiet low tone.
Assess the true consequences — Sometimes people make a “mountain out of a molehill” by becoming overly emotional, which in turn changes the issue from an occurrence to a crisis. Ask yourself if the behaviour really interferes with your work, whether the behaviour will ruin your promotional opportunities and/or create such a terrible situation you’ll be terminated. If not, then maybe you are blowing the issue out of proportion. Bring it back into perspective.
State your own needs — Let the person know where you are coming from and what your own personal needs are. For instance, if you find your colleague plays the radio too loudly and is distracting, then propose a win/win solution that will enable the individual to listen while your perceived “noise” is reduced. Help the colleague to understand your position without making them defensive.
Responding to an attack — One of the most challenging workplace scenarios is responding to a verbal attack. While a first response might be shock or rebuke, the best strategy is to hold back on any response and take a breath so you can take action rather than simply react. Be silent for awhile… let the other person speak. Consciously separate the person from the problem, pay attention to what might be the real issue and then carefully reframe the issue in response. If you have time, write down your strategy and practise prior to responding.
Make an effort to know the colleague — In my view, good workplace relationships require just as much effort as a personal family relationship. Get to know your colleague, identify strengths you admire and be sure to praise them for this. Build rapport by learning what makes them tick, what they like, how they spend their free time and their avenues of pride. When people show respect by making an effort to connect, it’s appreciated and creates a better foundation for a working relationships. Remember, no one wants to co-operate with someone who appears to be against them.
No matter where you work, no matter what job you hold, there will always be a colleague who presents a relationship challenge. The solution is to develop a positive relationship as quickly as you can, because when you have trust, problems can be resolved. When there is distrust, fear or disrespect, collegial relationships go by the wayside and conflict results. However, no matter what your role, my advice is to take personal responsibility to build a harmonistic workplace. After all, this is what leaders do!
Source: Sloppy Work Most Annoying Behaviour, Canadian HR Reporter, June 20, 2011. Managing Assertively, How to Improve Your People skills: A Self Teaching Guide, Madelyn Burley-Allen, 1995, John Wiley and Sons.