Author and business leader Margaret Heffernan once remarked, "For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate."
Nevertheless, many of us would rather not engage in conflict, argument or debate (and maybe even avoid human interaction altogether). We work hard to minimize interpersonal tension, avoid disagreements, and even stay quiet in the face of differences of opinion or perspective.
This can be a mistake. According to Amy Gallo, contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict at Work, we should be disagreeing more at work, not less. Benefits include: positive creative friction that leads to better work outcomes; opportunities to learn and grow; higher job satisfaction; a more inclusive work environment; and even improved relationships.
These benefits come with a condition, though: that you engage in healthy disagreement and productive conflict. And if you're the kind of person who is would rather keep your difference of perspective to yourself, your constant attempts to keep yourself under control can backfire. In fact, according to research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science bottling up your emotions can ultimately make you more aggressive. When we can't or don't express our emotions, like feeling aggravated, disappointed, or even helpless, we are more likely to act out after.
So, what does that look like? It can look like you going from placid and serene to explosive and combative in the blink of an eye. This can quickly undermine the trust you've built with others, and make you seem unpredictable and erratic. If and when that happens, you have some personal work to do, so that you can identify, manage and express your emotions in a healthier way next time. You also have some some relationship repair to engage in if you want prevent a similar scenario from repeating itself.
Here are three things to do after you have a big blow up at work:
1. Make a reparation.
Offer a genuine apology for your tone of voice and the content of your message, especially if it may be perceived as aggressive, rude, defensive, critical or condescending. "I'm sorry for what I said and for how I said it. I got angry and I didn't control my temper," is a simple version. Other language where you take full responsibility and communicate your regret work, too. Keep in mind that an apology shouldn't be any version of "I'm sorry that you..." ("...are an idiot", "don't understand simple logic", "made me lose my temper", etc.") Blaming the other person for your (momentary) inability to behave professionally is an unprofessional move.
2. Express appreciation.
Chances are, there's something to be grateful for, even when you're feeling bad about what happened. You might say, "Thank you for staying and listening to me, even when I raised my voice." Or "While I don't like how I spoke to you, I am grateful that you were willing to explain your perspective to me." Or "Thank you for helping us have the conversation we needed to have, even if I didn't behave the way I'd wanted to." Or even, "Thank you for recognizing that I wasn't at my best, and for suggesting we take a break and regroup." A little gratitude will go a long way.
3. Offer an invitation.
Just because the argument might be over doesn't mean that the relationship will immediately bounce back. And just because you may have moved past it doesn't mean the other person has.
Offer a genuine invitation to continue the discussion and hear their perspective -- whether it's about the content, or the impact that your behavior had. You could start by telling the other person how much you value your working relationship, and then ask, "What do you want me to know about how you're feeling?" You might offer, "What do I need to clean up with you in order for us to move forward?" And you could say, "You might not be ready to talk about what happened now, but I'm always open to discussing it with you. Would you please come talk to me when you're ready?"
In the words of author David Augsburger, "The more we run from conflict, the more it masters us; the more we try to avoid it, the more it controls us; the less we fear conflict, the less it confuses us; the less we deny our differences, the less they divide us."