We all have to remember that when bosses are under stress or feeling frustrated, they are probably not going to be on their best behaviour and may be detached, inflexible, stubborn, argumentative, shouting etc. Also when you are the closest person to them it is probably you who they vent off to. The same goes for all office workers so the people not behaving themselves could be your colleagues and also it could be you! Remember to be honest with yourself and see if you are contributing to the problem in any way.

Reasons for conflict could be personality clashes possibly because of different values, expectations, perceptions and beliefs. Other common sources of conflict include misinformation, misrepresentation and miscommunication.

The difficult colleague can drain you emotionally and physically by adding unwanted stress to your life and disrupt the smooth working of the office. It is important to understand that ignoring conflict will only make the situation worse in the long term. Bad behaviour should not be tolerated especially if it is as strong as bullying or harassment. Every time someone is allowed to get away with bad behaviour it is reinforced and they believe that it is acceptable to continue in that manner so it has to be tackled in a controlled and appropriate way.

Conflicts trigger strong emotions and for this reason we need to foster the skills of emotional intelligence. You have to be emotionally self-aware, empathetic towards the feelings of others and include emotional awareness in your decision-making process. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express your feelings, as well as engage and navigate successfully the emotions of others.

You also have to be tactful which is the ability to tell the truth in a way that considers other people’s feelings and reactions. It allows you to give difficult feedback, communicate sensitive information and choose the right words to say. Communicating tactfully will enhance your reputation and help build your integrity and credibility allowing you to preserve existing relationships and build new ones.
Tact can help you to avoid conflict, find common ground and allow others to save face. It can therefore be an important asset in negotiations as well as in conflict resolution.
How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive and in control, versus reactive and out of control. Tips on staying calm and being able to respond instead of react are:
1.Take deep breaths allowing oxygen to enter your brain and body and count to 10 slowly. In most circumstances, by the time you reach 10, you will have figured out a better way of communicating.
2.Avoid caffeinated drinks that can stimulate your nervous system.
3.Exercise and energize yourself releasing the feel-good hormones.
4.Take a walk around the block removing yourself from the situation and revisit the issue after you calm down looking at it from a different perspective.

It is important to have empathy and to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and at the same time realise that everyone has rights and especially you – and that you should always have respect for yourself as well as others. You will have to solve any conflicts and problems with the fact in mind that you have to continue working with these people and you need to keep your relationships healthy. In order to help you do this, you should always separate the behaviour from the person and treat the two entities differently – it is the problem that you have to deal with (ie not the person).

You may already have a strategy to deal with difficult behaviour but if it is not working how you would like it to, then it is time to try something different. As Henry Ford said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got!”

You may well feel uncomfortable dealing with such situations and problems and this feeling is normal because we all intrinsically want to be liked by others. However it should not prevent you from dealing with it or having a conversation about it otherwise you could become resentful and you may do and say things you don’t really want to do or say just to keep the other person happy. You may also avoid making the right decision for fear of being unpopular.

It is also important to set limits to negative behaviour as long as you use diplomacy and tact to prevent it from happening again.

Getting into the right mindset and having belief in yourself and your abilities is half the battle. Squashing your “negative gremlins” – those inner voices that say to you “I can’t do this”, “they won’t listen to me”, “they won’t like me if I say…” – etc is important so make sure you “turn on” your internal “positive coach” in order to get rid of those negative voices and encourage you to sort the problem out with confidence. To help with keeping positive and your confidence high, make sure you are properly prepared and use the following as a guide:
•You may have to do some investigations into hearsay so that you have the exact facts and not third-hand gossip.
•Never enter into email rage – either pick up the phone or better still speak face to face.
•Define what you want the outcome to be ie what the ideal solution should be for you and the other person so that you know what you want before you meet. (It’s about finding a solution and not about blame. It’s about looking to the future and not at the past).
•Invite the other person(s) to a neutral meeting room (ie not in their office or your office as that would give one party power over the other) and make sure you are not disturbed either by people or phones.
•Rearrange the room so that there will be no desk between you (this is a barrier) and that you are at 45 degree angles rather than directly opposite each other (confrontational).
•Sit so that the other person has to turn to their right to look at you (even if only slightly) as you can influence people more if they have to move their eyes to their right when looking at you due to how our eyes access our thought processes in our brains).

Think about the words you use – for example:
•Be careful when using the word “why” as it can make people feel defensive – instead use the words “how” or “and”.
•When you use “you should” it can arouse a sense of feeling guilty.
•Use “and” or “however” instead of “but” because when you use “but” it immediately diminishes or negates what was said before it.
•The brain does not hear the word “don’t” because the brain finds it difficult to process something said in the negative so if I say “Don’t think of a pink elephant” – what do you think about? If you tell someone “Don’t look round” – what do they do? If you tell a child “Don’t run” – they hear “run!”
•The word “try” implies seeking permission to fail. Instead say “I will do my best to…” or “Do your best to…”

Practice what you want to say before you enter the meeting. Once you are prepared and have issued the invitation and confirmed the time and date then you need to be prepared to know how to act and what to say in the meeting itself:
•Just before you enter the room, get yourself into a confident state ready to tackle the problem with self-assured self-esteem using confident body language to help your mindset.
•Specifically state what you believe the situation is, as 50% of conflict can be cleared up at this point once all parties truly understand the viewpoint of each other and then agree on the problem.
•Each party should state how they feel and the impact it has had on them whilst actively listening to each other.
•Make sure you understand what is meant and not just what is said as everyone has different perspectives from each other depending on the different filters they put on life.
•Use attentive and active listening skills, giving the other person the chance to put their point of view forward, keeping yourself calm and in control at all times.
•Think about your own non-verbal language and the messages you may be giving off and look at their non-verbal language. Use mirroring, matching and pacing to help build rapport but not if they are behaving in an aggressive manner.
•Using the right style and tone of voice is important to help solve conflicts. In the words of Eric Berne who developed Transactional Analysis, you should be talking in the ego state of “adult” to “adult”. Berne claimed that the ego state is when we are relating to another person, we can behave in three main ways – like a ‘”parent”, like a “child” or like an “adult”. For example if a person becomes upset or loses their temper (almost stamping their feet) they are in the child ego state and are acting like a child. Alternatively, if one party is trying to tell the other what to do in a condescending way or telling the other person off, they are probably in a “parent” state. Generally “parent” or “child” states are unhelpful when dealing with difficult conversations and the “adult” to “adult” ego state should be used for an effective outcome.
•When you want to be listened to as a rational and calm person, lower your voice. Only angry, nervous and excited people speak with a high pitch voice.
•Look for a win:win solution together which may be a collaborative decision and be open to any ideas you may have not already thought of. If possible, write it down so there is no discrepancy and the two of you know what is expected of you both.
•Make sure any action points are followed up and followed through. After some time, determine whether their behavior has changed and whether a follow-up discussion is needed. Decide if you want to continue to confront the difficult person by yourself or bring in a third party.

Tips on handling conflict and difficult people:
•Allow them to let off steam – never take anything personally – it’s often about them not you!
•Stay calm and assertive and you’ll be perceived as in control and centered.
•Identify what triggers you and also what triggers other people.
•Find out what underlying reasons there may be and what motivates people.
•If you have a problem with someone, see if anyone else has a problem with that person or is it just you? However, you must do this without it being rumour mongering or gossiping.
•If sometimes others see you as the problem, let the person know your intentions behind what you are doing. Letting them in on the reason behind your actions and the full background of what is happening will enable them to empathize with your situation and understand you and your actions better.
•Build and maintain relationships with everyone especially face to face as in this day and age we use emails far too much – get up and go and speak to people. Ask people for a coffee or have lunch with them to get to know them as people and not just colleagues. Learn more about their hobbies, their family and their lives outside work as well as inside work. Remember in order to influence someone you need to build rapport in order to be able to persuade them.
•Treat people with respect and remember the “law of reciprocation” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
•There may be occasions when you need to take the conflict to a higher level or get Human Resources involved but always try and resolve it yourself first. If appropriate, keep records of emails, voicemails and notes of meetings in case evidence is needed and also of any witnesses who may have been present.

How you find dealing with difficult situations and conflict depends on your self-esteem, your self-confidence and your professional courage. Always remember you have choices to make and it’s up to you to carefully and calmly weigh up the situation, the behaviours and your options, and then to act.

Remember, never give your power away by simply reacting – keep the power and control and be prepared and respond in the most appropriate way for the situation. “

Sue France FCIPD/INLPTA is passionate about the development of all Assistants, having been one for over 30 years. She has owned her own training company since 2009 working in over 36 countries with thousands of assistants, both face-to-face and virtually ... (Read More)

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