How to Handle Conflict with Co-workers When HR Gets Involved

Dear Office Mom,
I was recently reported to Human Resources because of an argument I had with a co-worker. When the HR person met with me, she said that several of my other co-workers told her I was “combative and dismissive.” She didn’t go into specifics, nor did she say who these people are. She only gave two examples of this “combative” behavior (one of them being the argument that kicked this off). She says that I am now being investigated.
I’m really floored by this. It really isn’t typical of me to get into a fight with a co-worker, and this is the first time I’ve had a complaint lodged against me in the four years I have been there. I also feel I have a right to know who is saying things about me and what they are saying. Can I require them to turn that information over?
— Confused in Indiana
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Dear Confused,

Thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear about your predicament. I know from my roles within the world of Learning and HR, this is an uncomfortable situation for you.

You can not “require” HR to tell you anything. When it comes to situations involving conflict, HR will only tell you limited information to maintain confidentiality. They do not want to incite further conflict by outing the other co-worker(s). HR also wants to ensure there is no retaliation when employees report issues like this. What HR might tell you is what you can do differently so this is less likely to happen again in the future.

My advice is to be cool. You have four years of experience so don’t jeopardize that, or burn any bridges. Please don’t try to find out anything from your coworkers or talk about it with others. If you did, it might not go well and could compound the problem. In my opinion, your best bet is to focus on what you can do differently going forward and stay clear of blaming others or questioning their perception of the event.

Take some time to think about interpersonal dynamics, and why you may be perceived as combative and dismissive. Obviously, your intention is not to be this way, but it’s clear others interpret your words and actions differently. Once you think about their personalities and communication styles and how it differs from yours, you may be able to understand what transpired.

Please read my advice column “How to Bounce Back After the Boss Gives You Negative Feedback” and the blog post “How to be More Approachable” as they focus on interpersonal styles and dynamics. Let me know if you find those helpful.

Take care and hang in there. This will pass.

xo

Your Office Mom