You work hard. You do your best as much as you can.
And despite your best efforts, there will always be people and situations that bring your momentum to a screeching halt.
Negative people and the conflicts they bring have always been my downfall. One bad interaction or rude comment can completely derail me for an entire day, if I’m not careful.
Whereas some people naturally just let things roll off their back — or even like to dive into the conflict to fix it right then and there — I can hold onto things and let them affect me for hours or even days. When I’m feeling like I’ve been wronged by someone, I develop a bad attitude towards the world, and I treat myself badly too.
And guess what — this only ends up hurting me.
It makes me less productive, less helpful, and less effective. Instead of having a bad few minutes, I have a whole bad day, which leads to a bad night’s sleep, and a bad next day, and so on…
If this ever happens to you, it doesn’t have to anymore. You can overcome any bad interaction. So don’t let the next project hiccup or toxic coworker ruin your day. Do this instead.
Set a specific amount of time for bad feelings
Your feelings are authentic, and you can’t deny them just because you don’t like them. What you can do, however, is control them.
Instead of letting a bad interaction ruin your whole day, give yourself a set amount of time to do the things you need to do like cry, vent to a friend, plot your revenge, or think about all the reasons the person who frustrated you is wrong.
Instead of pushing your feelings down, feel them fully. If you try to pretend you aren’t having them, then they’ll just slowly seep out through the day and keep bringing you down. By doing things this way, you can feel everything and finally move on, which is what you really want to do.
If you’re fixating on it, write or ask for advice
If a conflict is serious enough, sometimes just taking a moment to unwind isn’t enough.
This happens to me sometimes when I really can’t understand why someone reacted the way they did; I can’t figure out how to feel, because I can’t figure out exactly what happened.
When this happens, I like to ask someone for advice. Instead of venting or explaining the situation, I focus on asking for advice. I will give a friend or mentor a little background on the situation and then ask for their opinions. Why do they think the person reacted that way? Is there something I am missing? Are there questions I should be asking? Something I should be doing differently?
Often, I find explaining the situation in a practical way (to get advice) as opposed to an emotional way (to vent) helps me to reduce my strong emotions about it too. Then the advice and outside perspective helps me start to wrap my mind around it.
Writing in a journal is another good way to process these kinds of thoughts too. You might start out writing emotionally, but focusing on the facts and trying to find solutions will help you reframe the situation as a problem you can solve.
Define exactly what happened
In the moment, the one thing you know is that you’re angry or frustrated. Afterwards, you have the ability to look at what really happened — and also how to fix it or avoid it in the future.
Try to look back on the interaction like a detective. What actually happened, step-by-step? Where were you? What time was it? Was anyone else around? And most importantly…
What caused the conflict?
Sometimes another person’s bad behavior can be traced back to something we did. Not that it makes their bad behavior any better, but understanding what caused their reaction can help you avoid it in the future.
For example, some people are really defensive about their work, particularly if they see you as a threat. So if you said something to them that made it sound like they messed something up (even if you didn’t mean it that way), they might react really badly.
Likewise, catching people by surprise can cause unfriendly reactions. Did it happen at a time that you don’t normally talk to this person? Could they have been preoccupied with something else, like a meeting with their boss that they just left?
It’s also important to acknowledge the part you could have played in the conflict. Do you have a history with this person? Were you in a bad mood when you saw them? Were you unfriendly or did you talk in a way that could have made them feel defensive?
Make a plan for avoiding the conflict in the future
Now here is the important part — once you’ve gotten over this bad interaction, the best thing you can do is figure out how to avoid the next one (and every other one!).
Of course, at work and in life sometimes there are conflicts. People just don’t always agree. But disagreements that are especially upsetting or frustrating are avoidable with a little bit of planning.
If you have big conflicts on a regular basis, you need to take a look at yourself. Why? Because if you have conflict with people on your team all the time, then the common denominator in all of those conflicts is YOU.
Likewise, if you have frustrating conflicts with the same coworker again and again, you need to look at the root of that relationship. When did it start? What is it usually about? How often does it happen? What do you think the other person thinks about *your* part in the conflicts?
However, if you just have the occasional conflict that stresses you out, you can simply work on troubleshooting on a case-by-case basis.
When you’ve got an idea of what caused the other person to react badly, start thinking about how you can avoid those circumstances again.
This could be timing your interactions differently, or thinking about how you phrase things to this person. For example, if they’re defensive about you criticizing their work, how can you soften or reframe the way you give them feedback?
Circle back with the person if necessary
Not every conflict needs a follow-up in order to resolve; in fact, in some situations it is best to leave things alone. However, I usually find that if I go back and close the loop with the person I had conflict with, that is the key to truly letting it go. When it feels resolved, I can move on.
Only you know your relationship with this person and how your conflict will affect working with them in the future, and there is no precise formula for knowing how to respond. You have to use your best judgment about the best way to get your relationship back on track.
- In general, it almost never hurts to apologize. Even if you weren’t at fault, if this person had a bad reaction to you, they clearly felt that you wronged them in some way.So if you can figure out what *they* think about what caused the conflict, start there. An apology is almost always welcome, and is great way to start the conversation on a productive note.Apologize for any actions you took that you know hurt or offended them, and find a way to apologize (or at least acknowledge their feelings) for the things you don’t necessarily feel wrong about but think they were hurt or offended by.
- From there, it is up to you how deep a conversation you need to have. Look to the other person for clues about how they feel; do they look like they still have strong feelings, or have they mostly forgotten about it? Are the receptive to your apology, or do they seem like they need to move on with their day?
Don’t linger too long or go really deep just for the sake of it. A conversation doesn’t have to be long to be effective; it just needs to be authentic and clear.
- Share your action plan if necessary (but it might not be). Sometimes an apology and quick chat is enough to smooth over a conflict. It can actually be uncomfortable for the other person to hear that you’ve been strategizing about “how to work with them better”. So sharing the plans you’ve made for avoiding future conflicts might not be necessary, or even helpful.However, if you can share something quick to put their mind at ease that you are committed to avoiding future conflicts, that can be nice to do to close the loop.For example: “I know it was stressful that I popped over to your desk without giving you a heads up, so in the future I will send you an email and make sure you have time to meet.”
I almost always find that by being accommodating and apologetic, the other person becomes more accommodating and apologetic too. It’s hard to be mad at someone who is sincerely focused on making your day easier — so be that person for them, and you will most likely see an improvement in your interactions.