How to Speak Up for Yourself During a Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the Workplace

Everyone has had moments like these. You’re at the office, working hard on a project or with a client, and someone disagrees with an idea or aspect of the work. You and your co-worker end up in an argument about the best way to do something. How can you explain your ideas in a way that both defends your self confidence while being civil and professional?

Maybe you’ve just received a really poor performance review and your boss is just grinding you through the mud. You stink at this, you’re really bad at that... so on, and so on. Knowing when criticism is no longer criticism (but rather some subtle personal attack) is an important part of being a professional, but how do you tell your boss that enough is enough?

Regardless of which situation you find yourself in, or how you got there, standing up for yourself in the office is hard. You can stand up for yourself combatively and come off as a total jerk, or you remain silent and let people walk all over you.

First and foremost, always remember to be civil in the office.

Don’t yell, don’t swear or use inappropriate language, and definitely don’t take things to a personal level, even if your co-worker is. The best method of dealing with an argument is handling it privately--so your first step is to take the fight (or the mud-dragging) from public view and away from co-workers.

Once you’ve drawn your boss or co-worker aside, be honest, but never mean. Because you’re trying to avoid taking things to a personal level, it can help to use ’I’ statements to best make your point. Try phrases like...

• I feel like we’re losing focus of what’s really important.

• I may have misunderstood you. Can you repeat your opinion/thoughts?

• I’m sorry if my performance was lacking. How can I improve?

These statements put the focus on you, which means your boss or co-worker doesn’t have room to feel defensive. Depending on the situation, you can tailor these I statements to be more specific to your needs.

Notice that each statement has a call to action. Rather than letting your co-worker or boss just beat you up verbally, force them in to reason. Typically, when you ask for a professional opinion or suggestions for improvement, it shows an honest effort on your part to resolve whatever issues there are. Most professionals will take this in a professional way and give you constructive criticism, even if they sound angry.

However, if the person continues to make the argument personal, they may have an issue with something you said or did. Be sure to be attentive to issues such as this so that if you offended someone or did something inappropriate, you can apologize.

Just remember that no one has the right to be mean or unprofessional. If a co-worker or your boss is being really out of line in terms of personal attacks, you may need to send in a formal complaint.