Office Confrontation: When a Good Thing Goes Bad

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Aug 23rd, 2010

My father told me that college is a scale model of life. I’m starting to think that it’s not just college that is a scaled. Work is, too.
Let’s think about it:

    At work – you have people you love and people that drive you crazy.
    At home – you have people you love and people that drive you crazy.
    At work – you have people that will take advantage of your kindness
    At home – you have people that will take advantage of your kindness (mostly husbands and small children)
    At work – you have moments when you need to find a dark corner of the office and let out a loud scream
    At home – you have moments when you need to find a dark corner of the house and let out a loud scream

With all the similarities between work and home, it’s no wonder we sometimes fail to adjust our behavior to our location. For instance, when a co-worker steals your brilliant idea (or your world famous double cheese macaroni and Italian sausage bake recipe) and uses it as their own at the company meeting, it’s probably not a good idea to curse them and stop talking to them for the next five years. Okay, it’s probably not a good idea to do this at home, either. But, if you’re from my family, at least everyone would understand. After all, it was your Great Aunt Irna’s recipe. And, Great Aunt Irna entrusted you with the secret blend of herbs and spices on her death bed. Alas, I digress.

There are definite rules for work and life. The rules for work tend to be more conservative than your rules for home life, but they are just as important to building and preserving the relationships that will guide you successfully through your career.

A skill you must master – if you haven’t already – is the office confrontation. Using the earlier example, if a co-worker steals your brilliant idea, how do you react? For most of us, we are upset and we feel betrayed. Some of us may even be tempted to “out” the co-worker and let everyone know whose idea it really was. Before you let this situation control you, take the time figure what outcome you want to achieve. Focusing on your outcome will help you create your strategy for getting there.

Suppose your desired outcome is an acknowledgement that the idea was yours and a promise not to “steal” your recipes (whoops, I meant ideas) in the future. How do you get there? First, accept the fact that you may not get there. You may not get the result you desire, and that has to be okay with you. Don’t allow your ego to put you on a destruction course.

Next, you will want to examine your colleague’s intentions. Did they really intend to steal your idea, or were they innocently discussing the topic with your boss, and your boss just happened to attribute the idea to them? Stranger things have happened. To figure out what you believe, you will have to have a conversation with your co-worker. Be careful how you start the discussion.

When you start a difficult conversation, your first two sentences set the tone. Use them wisely. You want to put your colleague at ease.

There is no perfect recipe for handling office confrontations. I encourage my clients to follow the advice I am offering you:

    1. Determine what you need to confront your co-worker about
    2. Determine the outcome you want to achieve
    3. Ask yourself if the outcome is reasonable
    4. Accept that you may not get your desired result…and, this has to be “okay”
    5. Assess your co-worker’s intentions to set the tone for the confrontation
    6. Begin the conversation with your co-worker

Walking yourself through the first five steps before engaging in confrontation will help you express yourself calmly, clearly, and effectively. Happy confronting!

1 Comment

  • avatar

    Paul Canson

    11 Dec 2010
    Reply

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

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