It may be hard to believe now (or maybe not), but many years ago, I wasn’t so easy to get along with at work, at least with many of my peers. And what’s worse, the people that worked for me often knew it. Not sure what’s worse- being a jerk, or having everyone know it.
All these past conflicts resurfaced when I read a Harvard Business Review article about senior managers that don’t get along. Many, many years ago, I was given a serious aha moment when one of my employees told me that my constant disagreements with a certain colleague were noticeable and impacting the morale of the whole team. Talk about a brick hitting you.
The article is right when it says it’s not realistic to think you’re going to really like everyone you work with, but clearly keeping it professional is a must. They offer some sage advice around bringing conflicts out in the open and then finding ways to work together. But as someone who was humbled by the whole experience, I learned a few other ways to make sure conflicts stay out of the workplace. I mean if you think about it, don’t you have enough at home?
So the first step in my personal rehabilitation process was to stop talking and start listening. I found that when I had to deal with people I didn’t like, I would immediately tune them out. Once I actually shut up, I found that more often than not, the person actually had a pretty good idea. Maybe I would have presented it differently, but when you open yourself up to a different approach you’d be surprised at many times you stop disagreeing and start agreeing.
My second step was much like the article suggested, which was to take the conflict outside the office and talk it out. Meeting someone on neutral territory immediately diffuses certain situations. Food is also a great way to find some common ground. I would actually ask for feedback about myself first, which can disarm even the most antagonistic person. And rarely, if ever, did the person fail to reciprocate by asking for feedback as well. Now all your cards are on the table and you can find a way to work together in a professional manner.
Finally, I’d find a way to publically support my colleague’s idea or suggestion. After all, once I kept my mouth shut, I realized there was a different approach to tackling the same challenge. Once you’ve taken your newfound working relationship public, you not only make the people on the team much happier, but your colleague now trusts you in a way they likely never did before.
The bottom line is that you really don’t have to like everyone you work with, and in fact, you probably like very few. But you can never justify animosity that goes public. Maintaining professionalism 100 percent of the time is not a nice to have, but a must have in every workplace. So do whatever you have to and just get along.