When the going gets tough, your co-workers can be the first to get on your last nerve. Whether it's due to on-the-job pressures, stress at home, familiarity or just proximity, when you're feeling hot under the collar, it's often your co-workers who wind up feeling the heat — whether they actually deserve it or not.
So, the next time you're ready to explode because your cube neighbor did something that irritates you yet again, let these tips from business-harmony experts help you make peace rather than war.
"What we think of as the usual way of resolving conflicts does not foster resolution," said ResolutionWorks founder Stewart Levine in his article "The Many Costs of Conflict," adapted from Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration. "Unfortunately, the operative premise that someone will win and someone will lose produces all losers, no matter who thinks they won. The dispute-resolution machinery often fuels the fire of conflict and impedes resolution."
Rather than throwing down the gauntlet next time you find yourself in co-worker conflict, try to start a calm, productive dialogue, where you can collectively arrive at a situation that satisfies both parties. This way, you both come out winners.
Address the underlying problem, not the latest symptom
The fact that the gal in the next cubicle just took another personal call when you need to meet with her is probably not really why you're so steamed. True, this is hardly considerate, and if it's a pattern, you may want to discuss it with her. However, it's rare that one irritating act is the true source of conflict.
"Most conflict-resolution conversations do not foster resolutions that address the underlying sources of conflict: breakdowns in relationships," said Levine in his article. So, consider what's really getting under your skin before you address your co-worker.
Exercise emotional intelligence
"When emotionally upset, people cannot remember, attend, learn or make decisions clearly," said Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence. These three applications of emotional intelligence can be helpful in productively resolving office conflict:
Air grievances sensitively: Think about the effect your criticism will have on its recipient. If your words suggest the person is dim-witted, lazy or inconsiderate, you will get defensiveness and resentment in response. Talk to your co-worker the way you would want to be spoken to, and aim for resolution, not revenge.
Consider others' working styles: Try not to get irritated just because somebody's approach is different than yours.
Learn to negotiate effectively: Focus on the desired outcome of a conversation with your co-worker, and strategize the best possible way to achieve your result.
Manage your stress
Our own pressures can make us short-tempered. "The workplace holds a plethora of anxiety producers," said Gloria Dunn, president of management-consulting company Wiser Ways to Work. She suggested the following strategies for regaining a sense of control and managing stress levels:
• Mark off daily time that you keep free of interruptions.
• Learn to say no. Create realistic boundaries, and stick to them. That way, you won't feel walked on, and you will feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
• Create a workspace that nurtures you (e.g., makes you feel both physically and emotionally comfortable).
• Exercise daily.
But the best way to avoid office drama is to refuse to engage in it. Nobody can cook up a full-scale conflict alone. If you can maintain a clear head, a good perspective on the issues, a sense of self-awareness and some compassion for your co-workers, you really can work in peace.
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