Think of somebody who rubs you the wrong way at work. The dude who opens his mouth and annoys you. The woman whose emails make you feel an impending sense of dread.
You are that somebody to someone else at work.
One of my favorite theories of work is that there’s work-math in every office environment that looks like Hammurabi’s Code intersecting with Newton’s third law. For every person who makes your blood boil, you cause the same reaction to one of your colleagues.
Hate the look of a coworker for no reason? Don’t like the cut of your officemate’s jib? Wonder why the chick down the hall is such a loud talker? That’s because those other people are you, and there’s an individual talking shit about your sloppy work habits on Slack.
And they’re not wrong.
Introspection + Insight = Change
I’m a big fan of Cy Wakeman, who is a noted workplace tension expert, and she tackles the big stuff. If you have severe conflict issues at work, she’s your thinker and researcher on all things drama.
I know that most of you hate reading books, and some of you are thriving contrarians like me. You wouldn’t listen to good advice, anyway. So, maybe you can do a few experiments at work and see if there’s a way to de-escalate workplace conflict and live a better life without reading a workbook or watching a webinar.
First thing I do when someone bugs me at work? Well, I think back to a time when I behaved poorly and wasn’t proud of it. Last year, I took a consulting job at Zenefits. There was a VP who wasn’t my biggest fan, and she was disinterested in forming a relationship with me.
The culture in Silicon Valley in insane — and warrants another blog post or maybe bonus material on Let’s Fix Work — and she didn’t become VP of anything by suffering fools. She summed me up, didn’t like what she saw for many reasons, and wrote me off. And, at first, it was confusing. Then it was maddening. Then it broke my heart.
But how many times have I acted that way? How many times have I felt threatened by other women or younger people? When haven’t I been insecure in a corporate job? Isn’t that why I quit corporate America in the first place?
Horizontal competition between two women isn’t new, and I could see a path forward with this VP because some of my biggest rivals at Pfizer are now my dearest and loveliest friends.
And, looking back, we weren’t even rivals. We were women who were trying to survive. So, whenever that VP was assertive and challenging, I put her behaviors — and mine — into perspective.
We’re all human. Unless you’re the founder or owner, the system is stacked against you at work. Especially as women. Someone has to be the change they want to see in the workplace, and I decided it would be me.
It’s funny how, six months later, neither one of us is at Zenefits. Maybe she was the change, too.
Don’t Be Somebody’s Asshole
The next time someone bothers you at work, take a second and think about a time you saw that behavior in yourself or another work-related situation. Then, apply the lessons to your life.
Someone bugging you? Tensions running high? Hate the look of your colleague? Be thoughtful, kind, and offer grace. The more you forgive the mundane, the higher the likelihood that someone will forgive you.
Forgiveness is one essential and undervalued way that we fix work.