Ways to Keep Your Wits About You When Things Get Testy in the Workplace

Ways to Keep Your Wits About You When Things Get Testy in the Workplace

We’ve all been there.  You’re having a discussion with a colleague and all the sudden the discussion turns from a discussion to an argument to an all out knock down drag out fight.  It’s no longer simply a difference of opinion or exchange of ideas, it’s gotten serious with nasty words being spoken, accusations thrown around and one thing leads to another and the next thing you know you’re revved up, holding your ground and you aren’t letting go till you win this, and neither is the other person.

Learning to step back and regain your composure is more than a skill in self management, it’s critical for your career success.  Fighting within the workplace is frowned upon even with co-workers. And should you be unfortunate enough to be in a heated discussion with your boss or someone in a position of power heaven help you.  

Remove yourself from the situation.  My daughter and I are so much alike in personality that when we get into an argument it’s difficult to let go.  Simply walking out of the room or hanging up the phone can be seen as rude and dismissive. One day we were discussing how, when we are in the midst of the argument can one of us step away, let the other person know that our intention is to cool down and we will revisit the situation later.  She came up with the expression ‘green marshmallow’. There is no meaning behind the expression except it lets the other person know “I’m going to hang up the phone now or I’m going to go find space somewhere else and we’ll connect later”. It’s kind of our safe word. No one’s feelings are hurt, no one gets defensive, we know it’s a sign of respect for each other not a dismissive act.

The first step in handling testy situations is to remove yourself from the situation.  You may not have an expression like ‘green marshmallow’ you agree to but you can let the other person know that you need to cool down, that you want to revisit the situation and will and right now you are too wound up to have a reasonable conversation.

Go do something else.  Once you have removed yourself from the situation don’t run around talking to others about it.  This will only lead to continuing your frustration and get you wound up again. Engage in another task.  It doesn’t matter what it is. The act of removing yourself physically and emotionally from the situation will begin to bring a sense of calmness and new insights into what occurred.

Review the situation and your contribution.  Sports teams review the tapes after the game is over to determine what they did masterfully and what they could have done better or differently.  You don’t have a video to watch but you can review it in your mind. How did the situation move from a discussion to World War II? Did you quit listening along the way?  Was making your point and winning more important than resolution? Was there circumstances such as stress due to a project deadline or a problem that interfered and escalated the situation?  You can’t change what happened but you can review what happened and work to prevent the same things that interfered this time from happening again.

Actions speak louder than words.  You can be frustrated and angry but don’t hold a grudge.  It won’t help and the other person will feel it, even if you think you’re hiding it.  Offer an olive branch towards resolution. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on your ideas or beliefs and acquiesce to the other person, it simply means you are demonstrating that you are taking the high road.  Go back to them and talk through the situation with the goal towards resolution. AND if appropriate take the time to discuss what happened that caused the conversation to get so heated.

Remember you are always at choice.  You can choose to continue to fume and let the argument consume you, or you can choose to let it go and clear your mind.  Take a walk, go get a cup of coffee or tea, pick up the phone and make that doctor’s appointment you have been putting off, read that publication that has been on your to do list for weeks…do something that will allow you to let go of the negative energy and channel it into something positive.  Holding on to the frustration and anger is a choice, and you can choose to let it go just as easily.

Meditate.  There is a ton of research that proves that meditating has positive effects on the body and the mind.  It lowers your blood pressure, calms your entire body, changes your breathing and provides an all over positive experience.  Start with taking just 5 minutes to move yourself to a place where you can close your eyes and focus on your breathing.

Isn’t it interesting how easy it is to get into an argument?  We start with a discussion about something, the other party disagrees or maybe even accuses us in some way and the conversation turns into confrontation in a split second.  Yet getting out of the argument just isn’t so easy. Our need to be right, our need to win, our need to show them who is more powerful or make them feel stupid or whatever…our ego gets in the way of easily resolving conflict.  Remember though that in an argument no one really wins, and the reality is that you hurt yourself by engaging in the argument. Your reputation follows you wherever you go and being seen as someone who is argumentative and fights doesn’t help your reputation.

You may never be able to be Zen, yet following the ideas presented above can minimally reduce your stress and help diffuse negative situations.

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