People have friction with their colleagues. It happens at even the best companies.
Variations in personalities, working styles, cultural norms, and varying levels of emotional intelligence always exist. As a result, there will frequently be differences of opinions and conflicts. In fact, in order to create a healthy and functional team, we need diversity in all of these areas. Sometimes, however, these differences make it tough to work together.
As a leadership coach, I help CEOs and key executives navigate these challenges. There are always a few suggestions I usually give when interpersonal drama heats up.
1. Check your reaction.
The first thing I suggest is to check in with yourself; look at the reaction your having to the situation. Is it their behavior that's out of line? Or are you overly sensitive to what's happening?
Often, we have triggers around certain types of behaviors and situations. If someone is triggering one of these for you, it's really not about them, it's about you. Working on how you react to the situation is where the real work needs to be done.
2. Assess the likelihood of change.
If you're sure that you're being reasonable and the friction is really a function of the other person's behavior, then you need to take a step back and assess the likelihood of them changing. It's difficult to change, and most of people's behavior is driven by underlying psychology which takes time and work to first figure out and second to modify. If it's unlikely that someone will change, then you're probably better off finding a coping mechanism.
3. Calculate the cost of change.
Once you have decided that it's possible that the other person can change their actions, then look at what the cost of the change will be. More importantly, you need to think about the possible secondary impacts of the change. The resulting new behavior might be worse than the current one. Often these types of changes have unanticipated ripple effects on interpersonal dynamics.
4. Give them feedback.
Once you decide to take action, start by giving the other person some feedback. First, I always suggest you ask them for permission to give them feedback and wait for their okay. This enrolls them in the process and helps them accept the feedback.
Start with the specific behavior that is affecting you, and then explain the impact it has. Stay far away from implying their intentions or impact on other people. Finally, ask for the new behavior you would like to see.
5. Develop coping strategies.
Sometimes we either decide that it's not worth requesting a change, or we request it but it's just not happening. In these cases, developing an effective coping strategy is the best solution.
Try re-framing the behavior in your mind to adjust your reaction. For example, if someone is on their phone during the meeting, it's easy to think that they don't respect your time. Instead, tell yourself they have too much work and they can't manage their time well leaving them scrambling to meet a deadline. It's about them, not you. We often over personalize people's behavior as being about us, when it rarely is.
6. Make your own change
If you conclude that you really must take unilateral action, focus on making a change in structure, processes, and/or routines to shake things up. While you can't always get someone to change what they do, if you change the situation they will need to respond. In the phone example, putting in a ground rule of no phones in meetings and having everyone put their devices in a bowl outside the meeting room will cause a new, hopefully better, behavior to emerge.
I always remind my clients that changing other people is an arduous and often fruitless task. The flip side is that we have all the power in the world to change ourselves and our thinking. And while neither approach is easy, we do have options. Sometimes, simply knowing there are options will help us get out of victim mode and into forward momentum.