Dealing with difficult people and situations at work is inevitable.
According to Forbes, unhappy workers outnumber happy ones by two to one – so, on an average day, you’re bound to run into plenty of colleagues who don’t want to be there in the first place. Widespread job insecurity also affects mood on the job, producing stress that can lead to conflict.
Even when the economy is booming and a workplace is harmonious, however, some degree of conflict is bound to arise. Miscommunication and small-scale competition over resources can lead to frustrating situations.
To maximize your productivity and safeguard your well-being, it’s crucial to understand how to keep your cool at the office.
Dealing with difficult people is a skill that takes years to perfect. However, you can grow more resilient in the face of conflict if you plan your responses ahead of time.
Avoiding getting angry in the first place will often be easier and faster than restoring your mood after you are already peeved. Still, it’s important to understand both sides of the coin.
Let’s consider what to do to avoid anger and to respond when you’re already angry.
What Can I Do to Avoid Getting Angry in the Office?
We may not think about it often, but we humans have huge influence over our own moods. Look at your mood like your immune system, and the negativity and stress others introduce as a sort of germ.
If you’ve taken steps to prepare, you’ll be more likely to fend off the intrusion before you become “infected” and have to deal with lots of negativity.
Let’s look at some of the most important ways to “inoculate” yourself against workplace anger:
Get Plenty of Sleep
Studies have shown that getting adequate rest makes people more resistant to negative emotions and more positive during adversity.
When you are running on empty, your mind isn’t limber and any conflict can come as a shock, putting you on the defensive. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time for shut-eye and at least a full hour to get ready in the morning so you won’t feel rushed.
Don’t Skip Breakfast
No matter what you eat, breakfast helps keep you focused and energized for the first half of your day. Without it, you risk feeling tired, listless, and unready for the unexpected.
After a full breakfast, you can make other healthy choices throughout the day: Consider snacking on an apple, which perks you up with natural sugar. Coffee can make you jittery and short-tempered.
Deep breathing is useful after a conflict, too. However, if you start your day with deep breathing, you might be better prepared to put your best face forward when trouble starts.
Deep breathing exercises help keep blood pressure at healthy levels and curb muscle tension. By defusing these symptoms of stress, you improve your ability to make positive choices.
Leave Yourself a Reminder
By preparing for conflict in advance, you can stop yourself from falling into the anger trap. In the crucial moment, though, you’ll need to remember to take control and not let anger tell you what to do!
Use sticky notes, a whiteboard, or another discreet method to write down a coded “reminder” that you are bigger than your anger. Glance at it as soon as you start to feel upset.
Get Up and Stretch
Since physical and mental tension feed on each other, it makes sense you should stand up and stretch every now and then. Chronic discomfort in your back, neck, or shoulders could signal an issue with your chair, your posture, or your workplace setup.
When you’re uncomfortable, it’s easier to become upset – look for ways to improve your physical comfort while you work.
What Can I Do if I’m Already Angry?
It’s happened: Someone slipped under your guard and you feel yourself getting angry. It’s okay to be upset, but know that following your first impulse can make the situation worse. When you start getting tense and your mind begins to race, it’s the perfect time to take action.
Dealing with difficult people often starts with your own mood, so try one of these steps:
Write Out Your Concerns
Writing down the problem and how you feel about it is a great way to get emotional release. It’s a good idea to write out this kind of note longhand, rather than in email, so you aren’t tempted to send it off.
When all is said and done, not only will you feel better, but you’ll clarify your thinking and might come up with a few ideas about dealing with difficult people in your office.
Vent to Someone You Trust
If you have a close “ally” in the office, venting might be just what the doctor ordered. However, be sure to do it in a safe, neutral location away from the office grounds, such as a coffee shop.
A colleague’s perspective can help you see things from a different angle. To keep the relationship healthy, make sure you return the favor the next time your colleague is in need, too.
Call for a “Time Out”
When you’re at the end of your rope, it might be a good time to call a friend or your significant other. Simply excuse yourself from work problems for a few minutes and use a quick call as a reminder that there’s more to life.
Even as little as five minutes could make a huge difference on your outlook for the rest of the day and give you something to look forward to after work.
Take a Mental Break
One of the most effective ways to clear your mind in any situation is to go for a quick walk outside. Offices can be cold, sterile, and full of artificial lighting that wreaks havoc on the mind.
Stepping outside under the sun recharges you with a quick burst of vitamin D. Can’t get outside? Think about playing your favorite cell phone game or taking a quick look at your favorite site.
See it From Their Perspective
When you’re dealing with difficult people, seeing things their way might be the last thing on your mind. Ultimately, though, the skill of seeing where others are coming from – which experts call “perspective-taking” – will help you navigate conflict more effectively.
Yes, some people are just jerks; but many avoidable conflicts are caused by miscommunication or a perceived need for one of the embattled parties to save face. Working together can turn an enemy into an ally and give you a powerful tool for dealing with difficult people.
Conflict happens, and feeling angry now and then is natural. It’s not your anger, but how you respond to it that makes the difference. The more you exercise positive habits in the face of conflict, the more likely you are to build a reputation as someone who rolls with the punches – and that perception motivates others to work with you when future conflicts arise.