Office politics are such a well-known phenomenon that entire television series have been successfully spawned from it. As most everyone knows, you are bound to run into difficult people at work. Fortunately, in most cases this doesn’t mean you have no choice but to suffer for the 8-or-so hours a day you’re there. The rules that apply to all interpersonal relationships apply at the office as well. Here’s how to use them to ease the relational strain at work.
1. Listen before you speak
All too often we assume we know what the other person wants to say and where they are coming from. Generally speaking, unless you exist inside that person’s brain, this is not possible. The only way to know for sure what a person is thinking is to hear it from them explicitly. So before you assume Richard is deliberately taking your parking space every day, have a conversation with him about the problem and listen to what he says.
Listening means allowing Richard to say his piece without interrupting and without using the time while he’s talking to think your next response. It means just allowing yourself to hear what he says with a genuine intent to understand. You would be surprised at how many disputes this step alone can resolve.
If Dawn is annoyed with you because you type too loudly or because you have too many spelling mistakes in your emails or because any other reason, you will have much more success in dealing with the situation if you validate her feelings rather than arguing them. Validating means that you grant that Dawn’s feelings about the situation are valid, that they make sense – even if you do not agree with her position. You may think she is overreacting about the need for proper spelling in your e-mails to her, but you can still acknowledge and understand that she is bothered by this. The alternatives, such trying to convince her that it’s really not such a big deal, or arguing that there are actually only a few errors, or any other response that pits your position against Dawn’s, are unlikely to resolve the problem, and are quite likely to increase the tension – as you can probably attest to from experience, if you’ve ever tried these methods (and most of us have!).
3. Allow for different viewpoints
To get by in a world full of different people with different brains and different opinions and different mindsets, you are going to have to accept that in most cases there is more than one acceptable viewpoint, and that yours is but one of them. To the extent that you insist on others agreeing with your point of view, you will find yourself in the midst of tense situations, in the office and elsewhere. Dawn believes good spelling is important; she can believe that at the same time as you do not, and you can both exist in the same universe – even the same office! – without exploding. Ideally, Dawn will be willing to allow you to have your opinions the same way you allow her to have hers. (If not, you can always refer her to this blog post.) Even if she does not, however, your granting her and others the right to their opinions will go a long way towards reducing conflict nonetheless.
These relationship-based approaches obviously aren’t going to solve every dispute you may be facing at your workplace. But they may help you avoid the disputes in the first place, and they will certainly make it easier to find solutions to the ones that come up anyway.