Author Topic: Conflict resolution at work  (Read 1999 times)


  • Handlebar Stache
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Conflict resolution at work
« on: November 21, 2017, 10:38:18 AM »
Ok so this might not be the most mustachian post.  However, I do need my job so I can continue to save money and be frugal and reach certain goals so it's kinda related :)

Anywho, I wanted some advice on how to handle people who are a bit sneaky/tend to 'throw you under the bus' so to speak.  I haven't had this ever be an issue for me up until now at work.  I'm on a project where a colleague and I are supposed to be working fairly close together and I have been discovering she is making comments to others that have the potential to tarnish my reputation.  Now, the reason I know about the comments is because the person managing our Team relays them to me (I have built a strong reputation at work so the manager lets the comments slide and is a bit surprised by them as she knows they are not reflective of me or things I do.  On another note the manager is not 'helping' with this situation so I feel I may need to address).

To give an example, I recently declined all December meetings for this particular project a few weeks ago because I will be out of the office in December.  However, last week I declined a meeting due to a meeting conflict with another project.

As I was dialing into a call today, I joined as this colleague was saying to the Team that she doubted I would be in attendance as I had 'declined every invite for our project over the past 2 weeks'.  This was just a flat out lie and I was very concerned she would say this to my Team.  People know I've been on the calls anyway as...well....I've been on the calls.  She was a bit taken aback/suprised as I interrupted her as she was saying this as I joined the call to announce myself (she obviously did not anticipate I would hear her saying this).

I hate conflict.  But I need to learn how to deal with it in a professional manner.  I thought I should address this so I emailed the colleague and told her what I heard her saying to the Team today.  I asked her to please correct me if I misheard.  Then I explained to her that I had only declined one call over the past 2 weeks and had been in attendance for all others.  I also told her I have been declining upcoming calls in December because I will be out of the office for most of next month.  Lastly I told her that I had an issue with Outlook 2 weeks ago where literally all of my recurring invites randomly disappeared and I had to have IT address this.  I asked her to please kindly let me know if she is indeed aware of any other meetings I have missed recently as I want to be sure I am not experiencing Outlook issues again as I do not want to be missing any pertinent Team meetings that I am not aware of I may have missed out on.

She has not responded yet but all of the above I said is true-I don't want to be missing anything pertinent but the real issue here is that for some reason I'm working with somone who is saying negative things about me that are not true that could very well have an impact on my reputation that I have worked really hard to build/remain positive and I cannot have her doing this.  This is just one example as I'm aware of others and there are problem others I'm not aware of.  Anyone had similar situations?  Any thoughts on how best to deal with this person?


  • Pencil Stache
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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2017, 11:16:08 AM »
If at all possible, I'd let your good work speak for itself. If she's lying, and everyone knows she's lying, she is the only one who looks like an idiot. In such cases, her idiocy is well known and you probably gain nothing by getting defensive.

Ignoring idiots can be tremendously useful, because they often provoke responses in an attempt to be seen as a victim. Case in point: Now she has a potentially "defensive sounding" email she can use to "show that EconDiva is making a big deal out of nothing."  (Drama queens love the drama.)

When "letting it go" isn't possible, I'd suggest an in person chat where you very respectfully:
1. Ask her why she said what she did. (be prepared to provide tangible examples)
2. Offer facts to correct her misperceptions.
3. Express your disappointment that she is talked negatively about you when you weren't present.
4. Ask you to bring any concerns she has about you to YOU directly, rather than to your peers.
5. Thank her for listening to her concerns.

The trick with these conversations is to keep them light. You're making a request, not dressing someone down. If you want to CYA, run your plan past your boss before you have the conversation.

Then if the behavior repeats, you can decide if you want to go to the boss with a "Hey, I tried to handle this respectfully... it didn't work. Any advice for me?" kind of question.

Source: I mediated disputes like this for a living.

Standard "I'm not a lawyer and all actions have risks" disclaimer applies. :)


  • Bristles
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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2017, 11:37:09 AM »
Personally, I'd ask your manager to mediate a conversation. There is clearly something going on here that could just be a personality dispute or a perceived injustice in the distribution of work or whatever. A manager would be helpful.

I would not just "let it go" because if she is talking to the wrong people you could find yourself without enough good references when you look for your next job.


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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2017, 11:40:48 AM »
Consider yourself lucky if this is the first time you've run into a a sociopath.

They behave in an entirely different manner than most.  Sticking a knife in someone's (or many people's) back is perfectly fine if they end up better off.  Its just how they are wired.

Always keep evidence of what you do or don't do.

Never put something in writing that can be used against you.  Proofread your emails.  Even a seemingly benign email can be misinterpreted and/or twisted to effect.

Many irresponsible folks are constantly on the look out to see who they can blame for their own ineptitude.  Unfortunately, its a strategy that can and does work.

I had a particularly bad experience a decade back.  Fortunately i was very meticulous in documenting everything.  When the individual and I ended up in a room with HR, every accusation was met with me pulling out evidence to the contrary.  The scumbag had a dropped jaw through the entire proceeding and ended up getting demoted shortly after.  Fired not even long after that.

Frankies Girl

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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2017, 11:43:09 AM »
I had someone like this at my workplace. They were definitely trying to climb the corporate ladder by stepping on anyone else they perceived as a threat to them. Total mean girl that would be super nice to your face and then sabotage stuff and lie her ass off every chance she got to make others look bad so she could move up (she was so good at this, she sucked up so much that the boss and her became best buddies, and boss started having her represent him in meetings. But she would talk such awful shit about him and he was CLUELESS... she is the actual head of the department now, and boss is a figurehead that is the laughingstock of the rest of the company because everyone thinks he is a moron who can barely turn on his computer.)

Anyway, I agree with everything ShortInSeattle said.

It sucks, but as long as you need your job, you're going to have to be on guard around this person and practice damage control to minimize the @#! jerk's influence with coworkers/supervisors. By being proactive, firm and calm, you may show her that you are not a target she wants to mess with and she'll hopefully move on to someone else she perceives as weak enough to stomp on (or you'll be really lucky and your workplace won't tolerate her asshattery and kick her to the curb).


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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #5 on: November 21, 2017, 11:46:58 AM »
I thought I should address this so I emailed the colleague and told her what I heard her saying to the Team today.

Addressing this outright is absolutely the best action that you can take, so good work on beginning that process. With that said, email is good for certain kinds of communication, and bad for others. Conflict resolution is not a time to use email.

It is much harder to convey feeling and nuance through the written word. For instance, a delayed response to an email can be interpreted to have meaning: are they ignoring me? Will they ever reply? Of course, the reason may instead be that they're surprised about the email (they didn't know they were upsetting you!), or that they're trying to come up with a thoughtful response. I don't mean to convey that you, personally, are thinking any of these things, EconDiva; I only mean to use this as an example to show that email is not a good form of communication when there are emotions involved. It's too messy, and conflict resolution needs to be straightforward.

I strongly encourage you to set up a one-on-one meeting with this individual, even if it is remote. If it is remote, be sure that you can see one another's faces during the meeting, such as using Google Hangouts or FaceTime. If the meeting is remote, let them know beforehand that you'd like for it to be a video chat to be on so that it feels more like an in-person meeting.

When it comes to explaining the problem, be friendly and straightforward. Don't accuse this person of anything, such as being hostile, mean, or inconsiderate. Instead, state your observations (in a neutral way), and your concern that it may affect your reputation at the company for reasons that aren't justified.

The reason to be neutral is that they just might not know what they're saying. I've worked with people who will say things that throw themselves under the bus, and do not realize how they're coming off. If that's the case, then the resolution is straightforward. Ask if they agree that the way they've described some of your actions could be perceived as negative to others. Then ask if they agree that your actions were reasonable (because you're going on vacation, for instance). Request that they be more mindful going forward. There's a chance that this is all you have to do.

During the conversation, you may need to explain your concern in more detail. One useful way to get them to see things from your perspective is to "turn the table" to demonstrate how it is unfair. For instance, have they taken vacations recently? Did anyone accuse them of "denying every meeting" during that time? Explain that you wouldn't do that to them, because you don't have the expectation that someone on vacation doesn't make the meeting. Be mindful to not come off in a mean or angry way!

Perhaps the most important recommendation I have is to give them the opportunity to state their opinion that you made the mistake. Ask them questions to learn more about how they feel: were you not clear to them that you were going on vacation? Do they feel that your vacation is at the wrong time, or that you've "thrown them under the bus," so to speak, by you leaving at a crucial time in the project? This next suggestion is a little bit riskier, but if there's anything in the past that may have happened between you two that could have them upset, you could ask if that's a factor (and if they say no, then immediately apologize for bringing it up). Allow them to share with you how they feel about the situation.

If they share any concerns with you, tell them that you're sorry. Repeat their concerns, so that it is clear that you listened to them. Offer to help to a degree that feels reasonable to you. Ask them if they would like to loop in management, so that they're aware of the concerns that the individual has. If you reach a solution to their problem that they feel is adequate, then you can ask if they would mind not saying things that could be perceived as negative about you.

During this entire conversation, it would be helpful if you truly believe that you're talking to a person who has legitimate feelings. Even if they say something insulting, or it comes to light that they were trying to harm your reputation, don't let that get the best of you. Try to understand what it is that is making them feel this way about you.

I don't often recommend books to people, and this book may sound like a ridiculous suggestion, but it is hands down the best book that I've ever read in my life. It's called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. It was originally written for parents or teachers to talk to their kids, but it works in every situation. I reread it every now and again, and if I could point at any one thing that has helped me in my career, it is this book.

I use its tips each and every day, when talking to:

- coworkers on my team
- my managers
- stakeholders
- someone who is upset at me

and so on. It's been awhile since I've read it, but my summary would be that people act because of how they feel. Sometimes (typically when they're mad), their actions will not directly correlate with a solution to their problem. By talking to them, and learning how they feel, you can help change how they feel, and therefore change the actions that they do. The tips in this book can be useful if this person actually has negative feelings toward you. But there's still always the chance that they just have no idea what they're doing.

Hope this helps!

Ignoring idiots can be tremendously useful

I don't recommend using this approach for conflict resolution. There are always exceptions when you may need to ignore a problem, such as if it is with a manager who will fire you for bringing it up, and you need to ignore it while you find a new job. However, in your situation, it's a teammate and not a boss, and you feel confident that you are a good employee, so I have more confidence that a solution can be reached.

Also, do not ever go into conflict resolution thinking that someone is an "idiot." Believing negative things about someone, like they're truly a bad person, or that they're an idiot, is likely just fuel for making the problem worse.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2017, 12:16:19 PM by kasperle »


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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #6 on: November 21, 2017, 12:25:22 PM »
Thank you for all of the very helpful responses so far. I will comment in more detail but for now wanted everyone to know I work from home. So I couldn't have the convo in person. Also I wanted what I said to be documented which is why I sent an email initially instead of doing a call.


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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #7 on: November 21, 2017, 12:38:40 PM »
I would not ask anything. That will only leave open the possibilities for arguments and getting into the minutia of the details.  The point is, she needs to shut her mouth up concerning you. I would make that abundantly clear, even if it makes you look 'mean.'


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #8 on: November 21, 2017, 03:44:56 PM »
I think its super important you do a video call. Bullies hate being confronted. Even if you are worried you won't use the right words. It's important to look them straight in the eye, which teaches them you are not to be messed with. Until you make them look you in the eye, they will probably continue to badmouth you.


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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #9 on: November 22, 2017, 07:56:18 PM »
FWIW, I follow the ďhope for the best, plan for the worstĒ approach - I always start from the assumption that someone is a reasonable person and itís just a misunderstanding or immaturity or whatever, until proven otherwise.  But I also document, document, document.

So, for ex, Iíd probably have the conversation, giving them the benefit of the doubt.  But then Iíd also follow up with a friendly email that referred back to the call ó eg, thanks for explaining that misunderstanding, and Iím glad I was able to explain my December vacation.  As we discussed, Iíll be sure to get you xyz before I head out of town, and ABC will be covering D and E in my absence.  Or whatever.  The point is NOT to provide a blow-by-blow of the discussions, or a detailed rebuttal of her claims; it is a short, friendly email that is designed to document that you have behaved in an entirely reasonable, professional manner; that even where there is disagreement, you are focused on getting the job done and not getting into personal attacks; and that you have a specific plan to make sure everything is going to get done on time and on plan.  That puts the onus on her to respond if she disagrees with anything you said or doesnít think your plan is sufficient; if she doesnít, then she has tacitly agreed and will look stupid if she complains about something later.  And the friendly tone will spike her guns if she is looking for something to go after you about - if she responds negatively, she is the one who looks like she is overreacting, being immature or petty, etc.

And above all, remain calm and donít rise to the bait.  If she is doing stuff like accusing you of not being on calls, in front of people who were actually on the phone with you, that is going to reflect poorly on her, not you.  Pick your battles.  Engage on the things that matter, be friendly and professional, and document that you have done so in CYA emails - thatís 95% of it right there.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Conflict resolution at work
« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2017, 10:24:33 AM »
You need to work for better leadership.

My personal philosophy is if there's an elephant in the room, we trot it out and shoot it. 

I'm an animal lover so I hate whoever came up with "elephant in a room" as a slogan