Direct Discussion – How to Approach a Co-Worker

Don’t talk to your colleague in anger

Do not engage in a discussion while feelings are escalated; when you are angry your ability to use rational, problem-solving skills is impaired. Remove yourself from any situation where feelings are high and take the time to cool down and reflect. To find out more about the role of anger and how it can be channeled in productive ways review the section on Managing Anger – Yours and Others.

Analyze and think about the problem

Spend some time determining what the issues or problems are from your perspective. Try to consider the situation from the other employee’s perspective and what their wants or needs might be.

Separate the issues from the person - plan how to discuss the problem in a non-blaming manner. Being Hard on the Problem – Not the Person has useful pointers on analyzing the conflict and preparing to address the issues.

Often conflict is fueled by inaccurate assumptions, misperceptions, and unmet expectations. For assistance in understanding the dynamics of a current conflict consult The Role of Assumptions, Perceptions and Expectations in Conflict

Set time to have a discussion

Arrange a meeting with the co-worker when you both have some time. Let him/her know that you wish to discuss the working relationship. Express your desire to have a good working relationship and to tackle issues that emerge jointly.

Communicate effectively

Use good communication skills. While being an effective communicator is always important, in conflict situations it becomes even more important. Communicating in Conflict outlines essential skills to be used in any conversation where there is conflict.

Be ready to listen

Be open to hearing from the other person about their concerns. It is usually not a one-way street. The old adage that it “takes two to tango” often applies to conflict situations. We may be unaware of how we are contributing to the situation or how others perceive our behaviour.

Keep in mind that striving to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective does not mean that you share that perspective or agree with it. Conflict is not resolved by arguing with someone regarding what happened. Resolving the conflict involves understanding the other person’s perspective and having the other person understand yours. It also involves knowing what each person wants and needs in relation to the conflict issue.  

Work together to solve the problem

Get the other person involved in solving the problem with you. Identify possible solutions and assess which option works best for both of you. Be open. This is not about getting the other person to agree to a solution you have already chosen. To really solve the problem it needs to be a mutual, sincere process of identifying, exploring and evaluating options in relation to what each person needs and wants.

If workplace problems that you and your colleague cannot solve are producing conflict in the working relationship identify the proper arena for addressing the issue, e.g. a department meeting, discussion with a supervisor or your dean, etc.

Don’t vent to others - keep the matter confidential

Imagine if you heard from a co-worker that a colleague was complaining about you. Hearing from others that someone is criticizing you “behind your back”often generates anger and the potential for the conflict to escalate.
If you find yourself talking to others about the situation and wanting confirmation from them that you are “right”, stop. Take a step back and think about the issue.   The following sections might provide new insights and approaches - Being Hard on the Problem – Not the Person and The Role of Assumptions, Perceptions and Expectations in Conflict.

Keep working at it

Understand that sometimes it takes more than one meeting to really develop a good working relationship. Special attention may need to be placed on ensuring that clear and effective communication occurs with this colleague until a smoother working relationship has been attained.