Ways to keep your cool in a workplace confrontation
I need to talk to you.
These words can cause anyone to sweat with anxiety. Especially when it comes from a manager or a colleague. In a workplace, we’re not exactly ourselves and there’s no denying this. And when your colleague or manager comes to you with these exact words, your heart rate increases and there’s suddenly a lot of sweat on your palms and you can barely say a word.
What do you do now then? Your body is beginning to shut down—it’s creating an air of hypertension, you know you’re jumping into fight or flight mode.
Fight or flight isn’t so bad. Our bodies respond in either manner when we feel threatened, when our bodies are pushed by our brains with cortisol—the stress hormone. But, that’s where the catch lies. Even if it isn’t exactly wrong to respond in this way, in a workplace scenario, maintaining successful work relationships is mandatory. If we incorporate either fight (which basically means you lash out) or flight (which either means ignoring the person or getting the heck away from there), you know it doesn’t end there.
You will need to find ways to calm the situation down, especially when confronted by a colleague or a manager.
So let’s look at some ways using which we can diffuse such a situation.
Try to really, really listen
We don’t like angry coworkers. Sometimes, we don’t even like them when they’re not angry. But, when you listen to their concerns, you can dissect why and how they’re feeling and respond accordingly. When someone is angry or feeling upset in general, there has to be a reason that can be resolved. What you can do here is to really listen to them and understand what went wrong.
It doesn’t matter if you can or cannot fix the problem, listening to them will actually get a load off their chest and they might even feel better after unloading on to you. Everyone needs to let off steam sometimes, and when you listen to someone as they do it, it becomes the solution by itself.
Don’t allow yourself to jump in with your opinion or start a debate and instead do your best to simply be present. In most cases, the content of your response is less important than simply hearing your colleague out.
Empathize as much as possible
Listening doesn’t just entail letting the other person talk. It means reciprocating their message and understanding where they’re coming from. Speak to them in a way that makes them understand that you are not overlooking their emotions. If they get an idea that you may be underestimating them in any way, everything will be for naught.
Using positive words such as “I understand that you’re upset” can go a long way in resolving a conflict. Of course, the best is to accurately reflect their feelings back to them. Empathizing with them goes a long way in resolving issues at your workplace.
If it is you who is upset, always remember that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Your feelings are valid. Make sure you acknowledge and empathize with yourself and your own situation, and try to look for ways to manage your emotions in a healthy manner.
Sometimes, feeling overly emotional can get us in trouble either from someone else or yourself. What you can do here is focus your attention on something much more important—the reality. Instead of spiraling into negative thoughts or self-blame, try to map their feelings to the reality of the situation.
When you divert your attention and channel it towards a clear and more focused outlook of the problem, it allows you to protect your own emotional well-being, and look at things objectively. Try not to take any biting comments personally. Chances are the person is simply lashing out in anger, and doesn’t really mean what they’re saying in the heat of the moment.
Learn and forgive
Once everything is over and you understand what the issue is, you can now think of ways to solve it. Maybe you can point the other person to helpful resources. Or, if you realize that you did make a mistake, own up to it. A simple sincere apology works wonders.
Take some time off and write down anything that can help you regarding what you’ve faced so far. It could be feedback or lessons learned. It can be difficult to take anything productive out of conflict right away, so take your time and breathe. Commit to revisiting your notes in a day or two. A little distance can help you to recognize opportunities for personal growth.