My Name Isn't 'Honey', It's Macaila. | Dealing with Conflict in the Workplace
About two weeks ago I was in a meeting- it was going well; I just finished a project pitch that was approved and we were expanding on key information to include. Somewhere along the lines someone I work with chose to change the tone of the meeting. The goal-oriented, effectively communicating discussion was manipulated by someone ruled by an ego-centric, disrespectful, demeaning and belittling behavior. I pride myself on my communication skills- it is something I have worked incredibly hard to hone in on. Especially in the workplace. I’ve always loved the power words and actions hold- I found it fascinating as a child and since then, strive to ensure the words I write and speak, in addition to the actions followed, mirror positivity, encouragement, kindness, understanding, and most importantly respect. But, what happens when an employee or authority figure does not reciprocate these values? Conflict. The meeting took a turn when I asked for information about another program to include. Since I am not the point person on that project, I wanted to be sure I received the correct information and wasn’t including jargon or my version of said project which could be incorrect. While this made sense to me and the others in the group, the person on the receiving end of the question strongly disagreed. He saw this as my inability to complete a task, do my job, and as a personal attack. After multiple attempts to de-escalate the situation with rewording and providing examples of information I already have versus the information needed (pricing, start dates, etc.), I decided to stop. I remembered in the moment, it is not my job to tell or show others how to demonstrate respect. I already did my job- it was asking for the information. Another person in the meeting stepped in to reign in the person out of control, however his attempts were unsuccessful as this further escalated the situation. “You’re so disrespectful. I don’t understand why you don’t show me the same respect as everyone else”. These two sentences were on a loop as I was being yelled at. I find it ironic how someone can ask for respect while embodying that very same supposed ignorance of the accused. At this point I just wanted to start over- back track and revert to the productive part of the meeting. I silently checked in with myself. Perhaps I wasn’t understanding his frustration. I asked again. This time trying to shift the subject from him to myself. “I’m not understanding how to explain this. Can you please share what part is confusing so I can explain myself better? I have visuals if that would be a better learning style. I know I learn best when I can see an example!” Oh my goodness- this approach backfired. While I do not claim to be an expert at dealing with conflict in the workplace, I thought chaining the wording around and taking out anything that could be mistaken as negativity or criticism would be beneficial for the other party. The other person jumped out of his seat, came to the side of mine, grabbed my laptop screen and demanded I show him a visual. I pulled it up, however he would not look at it. After multiple attempts saying his name and asking him to look at the screen, he continued with the demands of the “respect me” statements. Neither myself nor the other two people left in the meeting were able to interject a single word. We were spoken over and I was further verbally attacked and labeled as disrespectful. There was a break in his rant. He put his arm on my shoulder/ neck- which for those of you who know me/ are aware of my strong dislike for people touching me, this was my tipping point. I shrugged him off and placed a boundary- “you do not need to touch me in order to effectively communicate”. The thing about upholding boundaries with people who lack them, is they are taken as an attack and processed as disrespect. Of course, the implementation of a physical boundary, in addition to the conflict resolution I was seeking earlier, fueled his fire. I decided to remove myself from the situation as there was unfortunately, not a resolution in sight. As I was silently standing up to pack my laptop and excuse myself from the room, he fired a few more sentences off. The one that stood out was “honey, I don’t understand how you can’t explain this. It’s literally your job”. My name isn’t ‘honey’. It’s Macaila. Honey and sweetie were then interchanged for the next few minutes as additional insults were hurdled my way. I dodged them left and right, keeping to myself and packing up. Before we both left, I consciously decided to reply to one of the accusations and comments made. I was told he can “throw money” at me if it will motivate me to work and to show him the same respect I supposedly show everyone else. I do not, nor will I ever accept disrespectful behavior and applaud abusive working behavior, such as this- especially based on the dollar amount on my paycheck. That day I lost a great deal of respect for a man I once admired and I do not foresee it being earned back- at least in the near future. While I forgive him, I will not forget. The words we say in the heat of the moment, show us someone’s true characteristics and beliefs. This behavior was a window into his thoughts and I am not a fan of his actions and how a conflict arose out of thin air. The way he was able to shapeshift so eloquently and without hesitation or concern for consequences is eye opening. I will not accept this behavior in any aspect of my life- especially in the workplace. It is not okay for someone to build another up just to tear them down.
While his statement of “well, technically, I am you boss” holds truth, the merit of his actions and the context and tone of his words do not. So often we accept subpar behavior from others because we do not think we deserve better or we are too afraid to ask for it. Well, I want to both encourage and remind you that you are not deserving of this type of behavior- from anyone, anywhere, ever. I want to tell you what you are deserving of. You are deserving of healthy debate and healthy conflict. You are deserving of encouragement, support, teamwork, amicable and reciprocal communication, and you are deserving of respect. Respect is earned, not given. I truly believe if those fundamental things are not met, it is time to walk away from the relationship.
For those struggling with work related conflict, I want to share with you tips for how you can manage and make the workplace feel more comfortable again. These tips are not just for employees, but rather for every dynamic and role contributing to a work environment. From small business owners, CEO’s and the temps- these are for you.
5 tips for dealing with conflict in the workplace
Do not react in the moment
I know, it’s easier said than done. Trust me, the person picking a fight wants a rise out of you. They want you to hurdle insults back at them and be on defensive mode. Don’t do it. They are not worth your breath. Mind you, there is a time and a place to stand up for yourself but it is wise to pick your battles. Do not enter into conversations or disagreements with someone who is close-minded and incompetent of truth and amicability. Not reacting is the opposite of accepting defeat- it is declaring victory. Your lack of engagement displays respect, peace, honor and a strong morality. Being able to walk away from someone determined to drag you down, is the ultimate comeback. Plug in your earbuds, take a work call, go for a walk, or simply leave the room. Show that person they do not have power over you, nor will they ever.
Remove yourself from the situation
I touched on this at the end of number 1. You do not need to sit and be objected to this type of behavior. It is not acceptable and you have every right to remove yourself until the other person (or people) involved can manage their emotions, words, and actions and uphold the standard of professionalism in the workplace. Walking away is not the act of a coward. It is the demonstration of strength by someone who knows their own worth. Hold your head high, and walk away. If others have a problem with your decision to resolve conflict, spoiler alert: they are not your people.
kill your ego
There will be times when others dislike the project you’ve worked on or the ideas suggested. Do not take this personally. Distance yourself emotionally from the critiques and input received in order to stay more levelheaded and grounded to avoid lashing out on others. It sucks when you think your idea is amazing and others do not see the vision. Work through the disappointment and remember it is not your ideas, behavior, presence or contribution that are superior. We are all equal.
Not sure how to do so? Try joining a gym and regularly exercising. Take up a new hobby or learn a new language- these are humbling activities and outlets for emotional balance and also require patience. Luckily we also live in the digital age where meditation and calming apps are only a finger’s length away. I have heard wonderful things about the “Headspace” app.
If you are experiencing or witness blatant disrespectful verbiage or behavior between others in the workplace, report it. Make sure you disclose the information of the situation to a supervisor or human resources. If you are nervous someone will overhear or are shy with speaking up, send an email. This is also a great way to establish a paper trail and keep track of the pattern of those causing regular disputes.
leave your job
Even if it is your dream job and you’ve worked 30 years to achieve the title and responsibilities you have now, leave. I guarantee your performance will hinder, if it has not already based on the toxicity of the working environment. It can filter into your personal life and reck havoc there, as well. A job is not worth feeling imbalanced and like a secondary character in your own life. I promise there is a job and employers out there who will recognize and value you on their team. You do not need to accept or be susceptible to malicious behavior.
5 tips for business owners/ bosses to deal with conflict in the workplace
open the dialogue
Make it known to your employees- both contracted and salary base, the interns, temps, etc. that they have your attention and you as a boss, business owner/ higher up, value their contribution to the company and their feeling of security in the workplace is a priority to you and the business. Create and encourage a culture where employees feel comfortable enough to confide in you. This not only will fill in the blanks for any misconduct taking place, but will also aid in the reduction of the company’s turnover rate.
accountability + Conflict resolution
A disciplinary plan needs to be put into effect. If there are not clear consequences and if they are not upheld, the person causing conflict and disrupting the fluidity and security of the workplace will only continue the dysfunctional and disrespectful behavior. Silence and lack of accountability only fuel the fire. The silence of the innocent is just as guilty as the wrath of the immoral.
I read that oftentimes managers (both newer and the more experienced) begin to distance themselves and turn away from problematic employees. Sometimes this is a conscious decision- other times, it may not be. The point being, when conflict arises and an employee exhibits less than professional and respectful behavior, address it and continually communicate with that person. Sit down with them to understate and hear their point of view for the disruption, devise a plan to correct the repugnant behavior and check in regularly to make sure the plan is upheld and the reversion of said behavior does not occur.
show respect with you full attention
Be available for co-owners, investors, employees, volunteers, etc. to voice concern for another person in the workplace and to confide and share their concerns with you. Do not multitask or rush the person. While I am not encouraging a 4 hour meeting about this, make sure you are creating an environment where others feel as if they are being heard and their words are not falling on deaf ears. Be100% present when meeting with others- especially regarding conflict. They didn’t schedule a meeting with your phone. They scheduled a meeting with you.
eliminate problematic people
Go to the root of the problem: the person. If warning, disciplinary plans, and a suspension have not eradicated the issue, it is time to part ways with the person or people decreasing the productivity, security and value of the workplace. Stop making excuses for the co-owner/ business partner, the intern, employee or anyone else contributing to the company. A problem is a problem and if it ongoing, it has been going on for far too long. Enough is enough. Stop making excuses for other people’s poor decisions. This not only looks cowardly, but significantly decreased an individual and/ or the company’s reputation and level of respectability. Cut them loose. They are no longer your responsibility nor your reliability.
identifying confrontational/ abusive behavior in the workplace
these are but few examples. if something feels wrong, trust your instincts. most often, it is wrong if it feels that way.
Discrimination based upon another’s sexual orientation, race, ethnic, identity, gender or age.
Requiring employees to perform personal tasks or those outside of the outlined job description.
Verbal or written intimidation.
Bullying in person or online.
Unreasonable and arbitrary demands on subordinates.
Suggestive or threatening sexual behavior or commentary.