How to Hold Your Tongue at Work

Sometimes, it can be tough not to develop an attitude or have some snide comment on the ready when your co-worker says something not-so-brilliant. Maybe your boss isn’t the Harvard graduate you’d like him to be, and he often comes up with some of the dumbest things you’ve ever heard.

These aren’t uncommon in the workplace, and chances are, you’ll work with someone who grates on your every nerve at some point or another. But here are a couple of tricks you can use to ensure that you hold your tongue when you encounter these types of people.

Remember to breathe

Breathing can help you keep your tongue in check when someone is doing something irritating. Keep oxygen flowing to your brain so that you’re focused and calm, even if you don’t have a huge well of patience for whoever is speaking. Taking a deep breath before engaging in a conversation can help keep you from exploding if your co-worker is particularly irritating that day.

Wait a few seconds before you respond

When in doubt, wait it out. If you feel a snarky comment coming on, wait a few seconds before you respond. On the outside, it will appear as though you’re being thoughtful and really taking what the person is saying into consideration--on the inside, we all know that you’re just making your best effort not to bite this person’s head off. Whatever they may be saying, keep your responses in check by taking a few seconds to reflect on them before speaking.

Be honest, but don’t be brutal

It’s okay to say you don’t agree or don’t think an idea is best--but when you start to get nasty in the way you deliver that message, it can really take a toll on office relationships and the confidence of the other person. Remember, honesty is the best policy, but there’s no reason to be mean to anyone.

If you do have to tell someone you don’t agree, give a clear (and calm) explanation as to why and then suggest an alternative. Don’t ever be the person who shoots down ideas without offering up their own. If you have to explain why someone’s idea may not be best, use the same technique and offer some suggestions on how to improve it.

Take a break

If you’re having a particularly sour day, or if someone is really just grating on you for one reason or another, consider just having some quiet time to yourself. There’s nothing wrong with putting on headphones and listening to music for half an hour to calm down. It’s always better than snapping at someone.

If you have an office, consider using an open/closed door policy so people know when they can come to you and when you’d rather not be bothered.

Walk away

If none of the above are working, or someone is deliberately trying to get a reaction from you, the best plan is to just walk away. Engaging in negative or dramatic behavior in the office makes you both look bad, but you’ll feel better if you don’t give in.

Simply state that you need time and walk away; if that person still won’t back off or leave you alone, tell someone with authority so their behavior will be corrected.

These tips can help alleviate some of the stress and irritation that can build up around certain co-workers, but if you find that your anger is quick to rise and slow to simmer, you may need to investigate anger management or talk to a professional about ways to cope with stress.


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