So here's the big question: What are you going to do about it?
Here are a few options:
a) Lash out. Express your anger directly at the person. Let them know exactly how you feel and don't pull any punches. Another version of this one is to secretly plot your revenge, which might be some clever yet cutting statement you launch at the next staff meeting.
b) Write a semi-polite, yet seething email that expresses your frustration, while following the behavioral norms of your company. Be sure to copy everybody and their mother so the whole world knows how you feel.
c) Vent. Grab your best friend from his/her desk and take them out of the office for a coffee or smoke break. Vent your frustrations -- but as far as everyone else is concerned you're still your naturally cheerful self. Keep that fake smile on at all costs!
d) Go through the chain of command. Tell your boss about the problem and see if you can get your boss to help, by talking to the other peron, or maybe by talking to their boss.
e) Do nothing. Nothing, that is, except sit at your desk and stew.
Which option do you usually choose?
I can't tell you how much unnecessary pain, frustration and anxiety I have seen caused by these kinds of activities. They may make you feel better in the short term, but all of them are destructive behaviors that will hurt both you and your organization.
These kinds of activities are selfish. You express your frustration but do no good to yourself or anyone else. In addition, they are likely to unleash retaliatory behaviors from other parties, resulting in escalating tension and even more pain.
Lashing out puts other people on the defensive and raises their hackles. Whether they respond to your anger or not, they will resent your approach and you won't get anywhere productive. Plotting revenge is even worse, for obvious reasons.
The semi-polite yet seething email often seems to be the easiest way out -- you express your feelings in a semi-public way and make them known. But you are using the group as an authority figure or policeman -- it's like running crying to daddy. What happens is that you force the other person to respond in kind, because no response looks like an admission of guilt. The circle of pain begins again.
Venting seems like it would do no harm, but it does. You are tearing down the human bonds that make your work meaningful and productive. Teamwork and personal relationships are the human glue that holds organizations together. By venting -- even to your close friends -- you are weakening the foundations, just as surely as termites weaken the foundations of a building.
Going through the chain of command seems proper. But think about it. You are involving your boss in your problems -- don't you think your boss might have better things to do? In addition, you really aren't shielding yourself from anything -- it will probably be clear to the affected party where the complaint came from anyway. So now you have gotten someone in trouble, and possibly wasted your boss's time to boot. Do you think you're going to see better behavior and more teamwork from now on?
Doing nothing leaves you unhappy, and the situation remains unresolved.
So what do you do?
1. Take a minute. Cool down. Try to see how the affront could have been unintentional.
2. Pick up the phone, or walk over to the person's desk. If they're not there come back later. Whatever you do, don't send an email.
3. Tell them what you are concerned about. Don't assume or judge them! Most of the time people are not aware that they stepped over a line. If something really bothers you or is unacceptable, you can say this -- but say it in a calm tone of voice.
4. Ask them what you can do to ensure that such things don't happen in the future. That's right, what you can do.
5. Listen. You're opening the door to a conversation. You will find that you are often surprised. Being open to the other point of view can enlighten your understanding of the situation and maybe even help you see a larger system dynamic.
All this is harder than it sounds, especially when someone has done something to tick you off. But with practice, you will get better and better at it. They key to success is to be genuine, to respect the other person and assume that their intentions are good. This creates a positive, constructive dynamic. Even a negative, cynical person will find it difficult to hang on to grudges and ill-will when you give them no place to land.
It's true that in some organizations direct behavior is rare -- even discouraged. If you are unfortunate enough to work in one of these companies, it's better to figure it out as fast as possible and get out of there!
Next time you run into conflict, go direct. It's the quickest and most reliable route to resolution.
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