Let me get this out of the way. Confrontation is not my strong suit. Yes, it's in my professional closet but like wool on a warm day, I don't enjoy wearing it. If I had to venture a guess as to why, I'm certain it stems from a junior high incident where a notorious mean girl cornered me in the locker room and threatened to throw away my "crap" if I didn't move it. Though I'd envisioned responding with an Abby Cunningham of Knots Landing (a Dallas spin-off and popular nighttime soap at that the time) smoky-eyed smack down, what squeaked out of my mouth after an exaggerated pause was, "Oh yeah?!?"
Not only in this pivotal life's moment did I choke, I disappointingly realized that I wasn't an "Abby," the show's vixen of vengeance but a "Val," the kindhearted, goody-two-shoes minus the multiple personalities and frequent mental breakdowns. For those who've never indulged in the guilty pleasure that was "the Cul-de-Sac," I can say with absolute certainty that NO ONE wanted to be a "Val." Sure, she was a best-selling author, good neighbor, and friend but when it came to confronting those who'd done her wrong, and the list was long, Val was... How can I say this gently? A weeping willow of a woman, a doormat to the world, a pushover with a capital "P!"
Many years and nighttime soap addictions later, I've experienced my share of encounters requiring confrontation, especially at work. Though professional plot lines haven't been as wildly ridiculous as those of Val's decade-plus character-hood, their impact on my psyche has often felt just as sensational. What I've found to be a quasi-comfort, however, is the universality among conflict-causers. Regardless of professional industry, company, department, or team, I've consistently observed the same rotation of confrontation-calling scenarios play out. Cue the over-exaggerated, wordless stare, predictable crescendo of the "dun dun duuuun," and see a few of the most common below:
- Credit Copping - Certainly not as devastating as a stolen husband, taking professional credit where it's not due still stinks. Pilfering hard-earned commendations, unfortunately, is not an uncommon occurrence in many office settings. Such a dishonorable act can instantly turn an upbeat, team oriented environment into an incubator for self-serving schemes and lackluster loyalty.
- TM...E! (Too Much... Ewww!) - A drug overdose initiated by an ex-husband's new finance shouldn't be just another day, neither should overhearing the inappropriate work conversations of an audibly-challenged colleague. Tales of a weekend's conquests, alcohol-related or otherwise (and I stress the "otherwise"), should never be openly broadcast to an entire cube village.
- What's That Smell - No one wants to be presumed dead, especially on a Friday, nor do they want to deal with the antics of a perpetual popcorn burner. Nothing kills office good will faster than noxious smelling food wafting from a communal kitchenette. And believe me, it's NEVER a good idea to reheat fish amongst colleagues.
- Mum's the Word - Nothing ruins a day faster than having your twins kidnapped by a crazed doctor and subsequent nervous breakdown. I could say the same for dealing with an uncommunicative office environment, manager, or colleague. Nothing raises blood pressure faster than an information shortage surrounding clear expectations and deliverables. If mouths are closed during the workday, they certainly won't be during happy hour - an instant cocktail for failure.
- Rumor Has It - The cul-de-sac was fueled by idle hands and gossip; the workplace shouldn't be. It's easy to get caught up in the anticipation of the latest IM "ping" when there's an undercurrent of hushed voices and closed-door meetings. Though the urge may be strong, participating in pointless speculation only distracts from the real task at hand; accomplishing goals and contributing to the bottom line.
ADVICE FROM ONE VAL TO ANOTHER
Even as a superfan, I could only imagine what well-intended words of wisdom Charlene, one of Val's more dominate personalities, might share on how to effectively deal with confrontation, but here's my singular counsel: A first attempt at conflict resolution shouldn't include, unless necessary, a manager or HR's involvement. Undoubtedly engaging a third-party will expedite a resolution, however, it may not prove desirable or intended.
Managers have their own work and peer pressures to deal with and don't have the time or energy to play ring-side referee to their employees' battles du jour. In fact, such tete-a-tetes only demonstrate an employee's inability to proactively deal with conflict that, ultimately, could squash an opportunity for increased responsibility or promotion.
"P" STANDS FOR PLAN NOT PUSHOVER
Without the help of a manager, what's a pushover to do? Have a capital "P" plan. Having a strategy to address and resolve conflict not only helps to expedite an outcome, it significantly decreases associated anxieties. A plan also enables us to avoid an emotionally-based reaction, always a big no-no, and stick strictly to the facts. Keeping the weeping-est of willows on a productive path. I'm certainly not saying that conversation will always go accordingly, but I do know that having a framework for addressing an uncomfortable issue will yield a far better result than telling someone to move their "crap." Below are several key components to a well-thought resolution roadmap.
- Let It Go - Not every unpleasant workplace encounter warrants a sit-down. It's often effective to simply dismiss a coworker's petty behavior than go through the production of addressing it. Of course, it's not easy to tongue-bite, but the likelihood of a more important battle being right around the corner is highly probable.
- Shift Perspective - If letting go isn't an option, take a colleague's perspective into consideration before lambasting them for their behavior: Were they having a bad day? Was a misunderstanding simply blown out of proportion? Did a breakdown in communication occur? More importantly, take personal ownership: Did I overreact? Could I have clarified? Should I have given them the benefit of the doubt? These are the types of introspective questions that should be asked before jumping to conclusions and down a coworker's throat.
- No Email - It's okay to jot down some thoughts about a serious situation, but sharing them electronically is never a good idea. Sure email is an efficient tool for office communication. When it comes to addressing a highly sensitive topic or issue, however, electronic correspondence leaves too much room for interpretation. Such a message also could easily be shared with the masses and quickly become the center of inappropriate and unwarranted office fodder.
- Namaste Now - Though the term may seem too new age-y for the business world, the sentiment is not. Always start a conversation regarding conflict in a peaceful and respectful manner. Come to the proverbial table not only with an unaggressive demeanor, but also with real examples of actions, attitudes, or behaviors in question. And those "I" messages we've all learned along the way? Use them to keep a conversation non-accusatory. "I felt frustrated when you told me to move my 'crap...'"
- Self-Assess - The best way to get a different result? Start with a different action. After resolving a work-related conflict, it's important to evaluate results. When evaluating, think about what worked, what didn't, and how things could be handled alternatively in the future. I hate to burst any passive-aggressive bubbles, but the probability of a similar situation happening again during a career is high, so don't make the same mistake twice.
- Make a Formal Complaint and Document - As I've mentioned in prior posts about persisting office conflicts or even harassment, it's important to keep on-going documentation. If there's been an attempt at conversation or reconciliation but the situation persists, it's time to call in a manager or HR to help facilitate a resolution. As I've also shared in previous posts, be aware that such a complaint could exacerbate an already volatile situation.
Through patience, practice, a plan, as well as several awkward "Oh, yeah?" moments, it's certainly possible for a Val in a world full of Abbies to effectively confront confrontation. Though my own professional approach is more "Can't we all just get along?" than, "You want a piece of me?!?," over the years I've learned to deal with the unavoidable yet often necessary clashes of workplace wills. For the most part, I've overcome the discomfort that proceeds confronting a colleague about their inappropriate or offensive behaviors. On the flipside, as there always is one, I've become more receptive to feedback on my own questionable attitudes and actions.
It's taken time and lots experience, but I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll never be an Abby (Sign...). I'm, however, certainly no longer a Val (Wooh!). Actually, I'm starting to think that after all these years, I'm a Karen (Who knew?), the show's understanding, efficient, and resilient neighbor and best friend to Val. The type of person who would decide enough is enough and delete all those duplicative sales emails. She'd probably even unsubscribe. I think she just did.