December 15th, 2016
Difficult behavior in the workplace is inevitable, with 30 to 40 percent of a manager’s daily activities devoted to dealing with some form of interpersonal skirmish, according to conflict resolution expert Tony Belak. Nonetheless, he emphasizes, “The cost of resolving conflict is negligible relative to the cost of leaving conflicts unresolved.”
Unaddressed conflict can rob businesses of productivity and adversely impact other workers. What’s worse, unacceptable conduct will only deteriorate over time if ignored or avoided.
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Here are five ways to respond when workers “act out” or otherwise disrupt activities and relationships at the office.
This isn’t just folk wisdom. Deep breathing and withholding reactionary comments gives you time to gather emotions and to think and remain focused on the interests at hand, according to Belak. If you’re caught off-guard by a confrontation, it’s perfectly acceptable to excuse yourself to collect your thoughts, notes HR professor Jean-Francois Manzoni. Get a cup of coffee or take a quick walk around the office before responding.
Work can be all-consuming, but it doesn’t necessarily represent the real world, says Bob Miglani, author of Embrace the Chaos. “It can be a bubble that obscures the truth,” he observes. Meet with or call someone detached from your situation to get a fresh perspective.
The possibilities are almost endless: A co-worker or staff member may dress inappropriately, use vulgar language, habitually arrive late for meetings, etc.. Respond by stating that you have some feedback you’d like to share, suggests HR consultant Susan Healthfield. Also, ask if it’s a good time or if the employee/colleague would prefer another time and place (within reason). “Don’t beat around the bush. [Say] ‘I am talking with you because this is an issue you need to address for success in this organization,’” advises Heathfield.
Difficult people — especially aggressive types — like to make others feel uncomfortable or inadequate, explains Preston Ni, author of How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People. “If you react by being on the defensive, you fall into the trap of being scrutinized, thereby giving the aggressor more power while he or she picks on you with impunity,” Ni writes. Change the dynamic by asking the difficult person constructive, probing questions. Let’s say the aggressor complains that your proposal is “not even close” to what he needs. You might reply: “Have you given clear thought to the implications of what you want to do?” Now the difficult person must answer, neutralizing his undue influence.
Try “expressive writing,” the practice of freely documenting your thoughts for about 20 minutes about a troubling issue. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Concentrate on delving into true feelings and giving yourself a sense of structure and control. A 2014 study found that people who tried expressive writing daily for three weeks experienced a decrease in pessimistic beliefs.