Arguing with Colleagues

Arguing with a colleague is entirely different from arguing with a friend or family member. Friends and family members will likely have a strong desire to reconcile from a confrontational argument. Similarly friends and family will have a better insight into your personality which will provide them a better lens to interpret and understand what you are saying.

Colleagues have less motivation to try and see things from your perspective. Your colleagues might not even be amicable and trying to convince them of your opinion might even be against their own interest, depending on the nature of your workplace and your relationship. Unlike people who are close to you and feel like they can communicate with you, colleagues might often have issues with you or your ideas which they feel they can’t talk to you about, which can lead to even larger resentment and brooding. On top of this, whilst we can often choose to distance ourselves from friends and family when we need to cool off, we have to stick around our workplace colleagues to do our job, which can make prolonged arguments unbearable.

Therefore when arguing with a colleague, you need a different approach. Firstly, above all things, be respectful. Whilst this is also true for arguments with loved ones, colleagues have less reason to forgive and forget your rudeness and misdeeds. Furthermore, if your arguments get too personal or cross a line you may find yourself in trouble with your employer for inappropriate conduct. More so than in any other argument, it’s in your own interest to keep things polite.

Work to address the conflict sooner rather than later. In confrontations with friends and family, we have the ability to chose our moments and pick a time that is right to address problems. However in a workplace environment where productivity is king and deadlines loom, if there is a problem it needs to be tackled quickly.

It can be tempting to try and resolve arguments and problems in the workplace via email or some informal method. Sometimes this is necessary, but for the most part, it is used as a convenient way to avoid dealing with a problem face-to-face. Speaking to a colleague in person allows you to better convey your ideas and for the other person to read and interpret the sincerity of your body language. It can also show good will by avoiding dragging other people into the issue and keeping it just between the two of you.

If you’ve decided to talk about a problem with a colleague, don’t jump into it straight away. You don’t want to beat around the bush, but nor do you want to launch an attack on the other person the moment they are in your sight. Try to state the common ground the both of you share first e.g. ‘both of us are feeling the pressure of the next deadline’. This helps remind the other person that you are both in it together and as employees you both have a duty and responsibility to your workplace. This can prompt people to put their better foot forward as they understand your shared goal and overcome a lack of respect for you (or even a flat-out dislike).

  Be ready to concede on a few points. In most arguments you probably won’t be able to entirely persuade someone of your opinion and this is especially true in workplace arguments which might be important to a person’s career and where bad blood has already soaked into the atmosphere. You have to be ready to admit to your co-worker when they have a point and you also need to ask questions about their opinions and thoughts to ensure you have fully understood – unlike friends or family, you might not have another opportunity to speak clearly to one another.

Whilst it can be good tact to keep a workplace conflict just between you and the other person, sometimes you just need to get a third party involved. It might be that the other employee is performing workplace misconduct, which is affecting your own ability to work, or even a conflict which is just inappropriate to deal with alone (sexual harassment for example).

These types of problems occur all the time in large business settings and there will be human resource departments dedicated to hearing and dealing with these important conflicts. Don’t be afraid to ask, at least not if you feel you have been seriously violated, harassed or mistreated.

If you do decide to try a problem head-on with your colleague, try to do so in the right environment. Find a closeted office space or an area which isn’t being used, so that when you address the conflict you are not doing it publicly.

On a similar vein, it’s best if your colleague knows that you intend to meet with them to talk through your problem, rather than just ambushing them during their lunch-break or in a corridor. Addressing a conflict in this way can cause the other person to get flustered and emotional and it also encourages observers to get involved, or gossip about what is going on. Letting the other person know that you want to talk with them in advance gives your colleague time to anticipate and prepare – to consider their own arguments and opinions and what they want to say.

When dealing with workplace conflicts, it’s also good to consider conflicts in terms of personality and conflicts in terms of process. Your colleague might just be trying to be difficult – they might try to waste your time, hurt your feelings, be objectionable and challenging just for sake of it and so on. However, a workplace issue might also be caused due to process – when the flow of the workplace itself is causing issues. Your workplace might be arranged so that different departments talk to each other enough, or different groups provide the resources that each other need. You personally might be being asked to do too much, or too little or being asked to do things that you are not being equipped to do.

Conflicts caused by process are probably not the fault of the other person. In fact, your colleague might also be a victim to various processes that cause them frustration and difficulty too. Conflicts of personality can be hard to solve, especially when the conflict is intentional from the other party. Fortunately, conflicts of process are easier to tackle as you and your colleague can talk about what you can do for each other to make both your lives easier, which can also result in a positive experience for both parties.

When you have resolved a problem with your co-worker, reflect from the experience and try to learn from it. You can expect that there might be some issues with colleagues in the future, so by taking some time to introspect and reflect on the issue and how it was resolved, you will be better equipped to deal with the issue in future.

Recognize that often the problem or conflict might have been caused, at least partially, by your own actions. You might not have intended to offend or cause conflict; you might not even of been aware that your actions were even having an impact on the other colleague. Nonetheless, ignorance is no excuse and you can learn to prevent such issues in the future by looking for their root cause within yourself.


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