How to Be Professional When a Co-Worker's Comments Toward You Are Over the Top

Conflict is bound to happen at work. Learn how to handle situations professionally to gain respect and get a good night’s sleep.  Image: Lacey Seymour Photography

Conflict is bound to happen at work. Learn how to handle situations professionally to gain respect and get a good night’s sleep.

Image: Lacey Seymour Photography

During your career, people are going to frustrate you, slight you, piss you off, overlook your achievements, you name it, they are going to do it. It might be co-workers, your boss or clients. How you choose to handle those situations* will say a great deal about your maturity and professionalism in the business world. It’s important to recognize that when co-workers criticize, insult or throw shade, taking the high road is always the best road professionally. You may want to lash out, be hurtful and throw it right back, that’s not your best course of action on the job. What works? In this article I’m sharing some work advice to keep you grounded and out of someone’s face when you’re about to lose it.

Don’t lash out

Your initial response may be to react with a vengeance. Don’t. Don’t text. Don’t email. Don’t talk. Don’t do anything. If you need to talk, do so with a close confidante or have a little heart-to-heart with yourself. Or, write it all down in a document that no one else can see, and you can’t accidentally send to anyone else. It’s amazing how a little time and distance can clarify what was so baffling and infuriating a few hours before. Often, you'll recognize another person's motivations, their behaviors and sometimes how you played a part. Or, not. Regardless, a cool head is always better than going off on someone and regretting it. So, always sleep on it, even if it's just a power nap.

Don't jump to conclusions

It’s impossible to know what another person is thinking or feeling, so why jump to conclusions or make assumptions about their feelings or their thoughts? It's ludicrous. Don't do it. When you are surprised or baffled by someone’s behavior, your first step after the initial and silent WTF? should be one of reflection. What might be driving someone’s behavior or actions, besides what you think or feel it is? Look at it from different viewpoints. Your emotional self may tell you one thing initially, but after your logical, rational self has a chance to process and chime in, you may have a different take on things. Not always, but you want to consider the possibility.

Talk about it (if you choose to)

Tempting as it may be, if and when you decide to approach a given situation, don’t use social media as your outlet.  Opt instead for a short conversation to give feedback. It's much better than texts or emails which can be misconstrued or taken out of context and shared with others. Tempting as it may be, keep any convos with your co-workers to a minimum. You don't want to throw gasoline on the fire. And, you know what happens when one person tells another person, who tells another person, who tells another person, right? Yeah, it get’s real messed up, real distorted, real fast.

Before you talk, take a few minutes to collect and organize your thoughts. A few moments of prep can set the right tone, create a logical flow and increase your confidence. Know your expected outcome. It's likely to explain your perception and ask for theirs with an eye on working together going forward.  Be prepared for the f-you or the I don't know what you are talking about response. People often don't want to own up to their shit. That's okay. If it happens, respond with a calm “Thank you for your time. If you change your mind and want to talk let me know” and make your exit without slamming doors or breaking anything (even if you feel like it).

Apologize (if you need to)

If you were not gracious during a situation, or if you acted like a brat or you were a dick, own up to your behavior. Everybody knows you did it, and so do you. Might as well admit it. It's really pretty simple. Often a sincere, "I didn't handle that situation well. I apologize" is enough. Don't be afraid to say it. And, don't make excuses for your behavior. Don't justify your behavior. It only diminishes the sincerity of your apology, and no one wants to hear your excuses anyway. When it gets uncomfortable, change the subject by offering to buy drinks. Works almost every time, based on my independent research spanning over two plus (okay three) decades. :)

What's your take on this situation and how it relates to work? Please share your comments.

*This articles does not pertain to situations of harassment and bullying



Originally published 9-6-2016