When we are in trouble at work our natural tendency is to run for cover—stick our head in the sand—and hope it will all go away. While this approach might work to temporarily assuage the situation, the issue will likely linger.
Many years ago a mentor of mine taught me a great lesson: It’s when you are in trouble that you need to communicate the most. He coached that the best long-term resolutions are achieved by having a proactive, in-depth conversation—not running away from the issue.
Conflict with the boss
Early in my career a friend passed along a rumor he heard that my boss was getting ready to fire me. I instinctively charged into my boss’s office and confronted him—not pleasant for either of us. He was frustrated with me and had begun to seek a replacement. After several long talks over the next few days we resolved the issues and reconstructed the relationship in a positive way.
This kind of thing happens all the time in the workplace. Let’s say you really screwed something up and the boss chewed you out, which was upsetting but certainly well deserved. You go home that evening, complain to your spouse, toss and turn all night, and wake up still upset. What next?
My advice is to do a clear-headed analysis of the facts and then put it all down in writing. Study what happened and make an appointment to see the boss. If your boss is not in town and most of the conflict occurred via email culminating in one very harsh phone call at the end of the day—wait until you are calm to analyze and plan. Then book a face-to-face with the boss. If you can’t see the boss directly shoot for a FaceTime session. And if it has to be a phone call schedule enough time to talk it out properly.
Review the facts with your boss, outline a realistic plan to correct the current situation, explain your future actions to prevent a reoccurrence and offer an apology. In most cases this should be sufficient for resolution.
Issues with peers
On another early-career occasion, I lost my cool with a peer over a relatively insignificant issue. It was during a period of significant company transition—everyone was uptight and working against tough deadlines. I was off base and knew it.
Two hours later, I swallowed my pride, walked into his office and apologized for my actions. Over time we rebuilt our relationship. Had I not been proactive, we may have been walking on eggshells for months to come.
Handling peer conflicts is really no different than dealing with a boss. Take time to calm down and organize your thoughts. Then schedule a time for a genuine conversation. An apology, hopefully on both sides, plus a firm handshake will typically put the issue in the history bin.
It is essential to resolve significant workplace issues as quickly as you can. Simmering tensions may go away in the short term, but they tend to boil up over time. Be proactive in seeking resolution for all conflict.