Office dynamics can be tricky, especially when potentially controversial and divisive policies are introduced. Tempers can flare and create conflict, but is this really unavoidable?
While I was at work, my supervisor called my small team into his office. He told us that we had a new audit report to do.
Over the past few months, our paperwork responsibilities have grown and changed from the old system. We were just starting to get used to the changes when they decided to require another report from us.
I wasn’t particularly excited about the additional paperwork and I know the others weren’t either. Still, it wasn’t that big of a deal. This new report is similar to an existing one, but a little more in-depth. Maybe 10 minutes more of work per shift would suffice.
One of the guys on my team spoke up.
He started raising his voice, wanting to know why they were giving us extra work. He got defensive and asked the supervisor if we weren’t doing well at our job.
When he continued complaining about the new report and venting at our supervisor, I started to wonder why he was getting worked up over a simple request.
Then he and the supervisor started arguing loudly.
Our supervisor said, “Fine. Don’t do it if you don’t want to. I’ll let my boss know that you all don’t want to do this new report.” Clearly frustrated with the attitude of my co-worker.
This prompted another guy to speak up and air his side.
He made it clear that there was only one guy who expressed dissent on the new task and not the entire team.
The tension was thick in the room.
How did this meeting escalate into confrontation and hostility so quickly? Within two minutes of us starting the meeting, the entire mood in the room had turned sour.
Our supervisor went on to explain the purpose of the report. He said that it will help them identify which shifts were experiencing security issues. That’s all.
After hearing his explanation, the uncooperative guy became quiet. Now it made sense to him, but his outburst had already disrupted the meeting.
If he had remained patient and asked questions in a respectful way, the meeting would have been drastically different. There would be no hurt emotions and no conflict between him and his boss.
There are two lessons to learn in this particular incident:
- Don’t jump to conclusions. There is no upside to this. Forming an opinion before you have all the facts will not end well. The same is true if you let your emotions cloud your judgment. It shows mental weakness and lack of maturity. Asking questions in a respectful manner may have resolved the issue without damaging the relationship. Our supervisor likewise jumped to conclusions when he wrongly interpreted one person’s dissent as general consensus. The simplest way to avoid jumping to conclusions is to listen first before reacting, it’s the polite and professional thing to do.
- If you are the person tasked to deliver sensitive or upsetting news, you need to communicate clearly and address the concerns quickly. Make sure you tackle the biggest questions and possible concerns as soon as possible to avert potential issues. While he failed to address the concerns early on, our supervisor could have diffused the situation by calmly explaining the significance of the additional report. Instead, he reacted badly to my co-worker’s emotional outburst which made things worse.
In this case, the whole ordeal could have been prevented by either of the guys if they did the right thing. Both of them let their emotions get in the way of finding an amicable solution.
Even if you’re having a bad day or dealing with personal issues, keeping your cool will prevent many potential arguments and fights. Become the kind of man who remains level-headed during stressful situations and you will earn the respect of others.
The ability to manage your emotions gives you more control over the situation, so think ahead when you know tempers might run high. Your initial thoughts can be wrong. The information you receive can be unclear or incomplete. Don’t be too quick to judge. Be the man who keeps the peace in situations where less competent men would create chaos.