Certified mediator of workplace conflicts lends expertise in helping employees determine the right course of action for situations that seem to pop up in the office.
From a distance, you see your co-workers Nancy and Barbara whispering intently at the water cooler, seemingly unaware of the hum of the office around them. That is, until you approach. Then it’s as if your colleagues forgot how to talk, they stop mid-sentence, their eyes flutter nervously, guiltily and with a quick ‘hi’ they walk hurriedly past you and back to their desks. And all of the sudden that prickly, nervous feeling creeps into your stomach and you just know. They were talking about you.
Interpersonal situations in the office can range from uncomfortable to downright unbearable.
Ann Farrell, a professional certified life coach, regularly speaks to workers about many of the problems that can plague an office of people, who different as they might be, are expected to work harmoniously together day-in, day-out.
“People aren’t investing time to build professional relationships,” said Farrell of Winfield. “Sharing with co-workers and being vulnerable to them is huge.”
And while nobody really likes stereotypes, they abound in the workplace.
“Which one of us wants to be labeled ‘the gossip?’ but everyone of us can think of times we slip into it,” Farrell said.
What takes the negativity out of the equation is being open with people and knowing when to take a stance, she asserted.
A big thing for Anese Cavanaugh, a leadership coach out of St. Charles, is what she terms “personal sustainability.”
Personal sustainability includes a focus on wellness, self-care and the ability to positively engage with others. These traits build a “strong foundation” for personal and professional growth.
“(Personal sustainability) means managers and leaders are better equipped to lead,” Cavanaugh said. “They’ve got more tools and skills and they have a stronger way of being because they’re taking care of themselves.”
A manager’s skill at handling arguments concerning miscommunication and personality clashes can often make or break the morale and efficiency of an office. As a certified mediator of workplace conflicts, Ann Marie Pahlman sees a lot of bosses who don’t know what to do when issues arise.
“It’s suprising how many managers don’t want to deal with (problems),” Pahlman said. “Typically there is not a seminar to teach managers how to deal with workplace conflicts. If the person has a master’s of business administration, they would have learned some of these skills, but often managers lack the insight to see what’s really going on.”
Below are familiar workplace scenarios. Pahlman lends her expertise in helping employees determine the right course of action for the given situation.
The situation: You hear someone in the office has been spreading rumors about you
The solution: Lay it out on the table. This direct approach will embarrass the person and make them think twice before they do it again, Pahlman said.
Though you may be seething, it’s important to try and make the other person as comfortable as possible so they don’t become defensive or antagonistic.
“If the gossip is true, say something like ‘In the future, I’d appreciate it if you came to me before anyone else,’” Pahlman said.
The situation: While working with another person on a project, you come to find he has been routinely taking the credit for your ideas
The solution: “If you know you’re working with that kind of individual, document everything you do,” Pahlman said.
To put a stop to this behavior, put your ideas and contributions in writing and submit them to your boss. Also, keep your ideas to yourself.
“This way your boss will know what’s going on if the person comes in to claim the credit,” she said.
The situation: A colleague repeatedly ignores, bulldozes over your ideas
The solution: Pahlman advises being truthful with the person.
“Tell them they may want to tone it down or that you feel like you’re not getting heard,” she said.
If the person is gruff and pushy, however, don’t push it.
The situation: You hear one of your co-workers complaining about the job at every turn
The solution: If it gets to be too much, tell the person you don’t have time for their complaints.
“If they realize that they don’t have an audience, they’ll stop,” Pahlman said.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, when another person’s behavior is debilitating and when it’s just annoying.
“If something is merely obnoxious, but not professionally affecting, ignore it,” she said.
“You can’t change people but you should always treat them with respect.”
The situation: Your boss is elusive and often late in getting back to you about work-related matters
The solution: Write your boss an e-mail and give a date by which you need a response. You may also want to document consequences of inaction by telling your superior that if, for example, she doesn’t respond by such-and-such time the project will be set back four weeks or the company will lose a month’s worth of sales.
“You have to be careful about the tone of the e-mail,” Pahlman said. “Write something like, ‘I know you’re busy, but....’”
Ask a trusted colleague about your boss’ management style, but even then make sure to keep your questions broad.
Going above your manager’s head is something you want to avoid, so if you still feel like you’re getting nowhere, bring up the issue in a meeting to create awareness.
“You can describe it in such a way that you don’t call out any names,” Pahlman said. “Say ‘This project slipped’ or ‘This information wasn’t available in time.’ Someone will inevitably come up to you later on and ask for more details.”
But always keep the dialogue respectful, she heeded.
The situation: A person in your office is consistently slacking off and it’s backing up on you
The solution: Again the direct approach is best, Pahlman said. Remind your colleague of the tasks involved and document.
“Anything you can put your hands on, put it in writing,” she said. “It might make that person step up to the plate.”
When to go to management?
You may have had it with your colleague but it’s a good idea to show some effort at fixing the problem before seeking out your boss.
“It’s going to highlight your interpersonal skills if you go to management over and over again,” Pahlman said. “You want to limit contact as much as you can with management and try to solve the problem yourself.”
She advises communicating with the person about the situation or their problematic behavior. If the talk doesn’t help, seek the person out a second time and reiterate your stance. Only if there is still no progress, should you go to your manager.
“When you talk to your boss, you should emphasize how the dispute is slowing up a project or productivity,” she said. “If you know the person you’re having problems with is a management pet, go to another manager.”
Only if a superior has tried, unsuccessfully, to resolve the problem, should you request mediation.
Seeking out management is also a dicey move if you get the feeling your voice won’t be acknowledged.
“If you’re a woman in a boys’ network, you already know you’re not going to be heard,” Pahlman said. “Try and approach the person in a joking manner and if that fails, look for another job.” What to say, how to say it
The best way to prepare for a difficult talk with a colleague is to plan the conversation.
“When you approach your co-worker, you may want to give them an indication of what you want to talk about,” Pahlman said.
When the two of you do sit down, have on-hand, concrete examples of the person’s negative behavior and how it has affected you.
“Let emotions out on the table, but make sure it’s not going to be personal,” Pahlman said.
Another good idea is to find out when the person’s energy level is at its highest.
“Some people are morning people, others are crabby in the morning,” Pahlman said. “Don’t talk to them when they’re crabby.”
A Friday afternoon can be a good time for a sensitive chat because it allows the other person the weekend to think about what’s been said. But whatever you do, don’t “dump” on your co-worker.
“Try to make the conversation as non-confrontational as possible and be respectful,” she said.