There are people (like my Dad) who can engage in a difficult or tense encounter with someone and quickly rebound to a state of calm and "togetherness". Then there are people like me, whose palms start sweating and hearts start racing at the whiff of a potential conflict (this makes me wonder why I got a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution, but then I remember that we seek out what we need to learn).
If you're sensitive like I am, I have some thoughts on how to take better care of yourself before, during, and after a difficult interaction in the workplace. Before I dive in, though, I want to say that not all conflicts are deserving of your time and energy. Dealing with conflicts respectfully and directly is usually your best option, but there are some workplace conflicts that won't ever be transformed, despite your best efforts. Before you decide whether or not to have a tough conversation with someone you're in conflict with, make sure it's a conflict that truly needs to be addressed and that you're engaging with someone who - at the very least - respects your shared humanity.
Assuming you do need to engage in a conflict with someone in the workplace, here are 5 things you can do to take care of yourself beforehand. Taking these steps will not only better protect your body and spirit, they'll also allow you to think more clearly and more creatively during the interaction. Remember: the only things you have control over in a difficult conversation are your own perceptions, reactions, and contributions.
- Incorporate mindfulness into your daily rhythms at work. Even if you're only able to do this right now or right before your difficult conversation, it will make a difference. There is so. much. evidence. of how mindfulness expands our ability to engage with others at a higher level. Incorporating mindfulness could look like setting a reminder on your phone that says "Take 5 deep breaths", meditating in the mornings for 10 minutes, or committing to take quiet walks before and after your lunch break. Just start small - I know you'll notice a change in how you orient to yourself and your work environment.
- Reframe the conversation. How you label the conversation matters, and you can find a more positive reframe that feels right to you (even if it feels fake at first!). If the term "conflict" invokes feelings of fear or a pounding heart, come up with a different frame for the conversation. If you need to tell your boss "no", you might try labeling the conversation something like "setting good boundaries and finding a different solution." If you need to point out an error that a colleague made, try labeling that conversation "offering up feedback in order to make our work better." Whatever reframing you do, try to think of the "difficult conversation" you're about to have as just one of many normal conversations you'll have that day.
- Find something that is comforting at work and use that right before your conversation. The more calm and centered you are before the conversation you need to have, the better it will go, guaranteed. So find something at work that is comforting and nourishing to you and engage in that beforehand. This could be texting a loved one, finding cute animal pictures online, or spritzing some Anxiety Away mist around you.
- Assume that the conversation is going to go well. Assume the best of the person you're engaging with. Imagine your boss saying that the alternative you offered is wonderful. Imagine your colleague thanking you for the feedback and asking how you'd recommend s/he fix it.
- Plan ahead. If you're going to have a conversation that is about something complex or you're worried you won't be able to say what you need to, jot some notes down beforehand. This can help you clarify what you really want out of the conversation and help you speak from a calm, centered place within you.
Stay tuned for the next installment, Taking Care of Yourself During a Workplace Conflict!
If you like podcasts, check out the one I did on How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace!