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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Talk to Your Boss About a Co-worker You Hate

“So, how are things going at the office?” I asked my dinner companion, a longtime business veteran who manages a small team. “Last week, you mentioned some kind of conflict. What happened?”

She told me the story about how two of her employees were having trouble working together and then individually coming into her office to complain about the other person.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “Because one person will come into my office saying, ‘so-and-so did this!’ But when I ask the other person, ‘did you do that?’ They’ll say, ‘I never did that!’ And vice versa.”

She sighed, heavily. “It’s becoming a he-said-she-said situation. I honestly don’t know what to do.”

She ordered another martini. I mulled over the story, sipping my Old Fashioned.

“In your fantasy world...” I began. “When this kind of conflict happens, and an employee comes into your office to talk about it, what would you like them to say?”

She paused, considering. “What I don’t want is complaining and blaming. What I do want is a positive attitude. A desire to make things better, not just vent.”

“OK,” I said. “So, what would that sound like, specifically?”

Several sips later, we came up with the following conversation script:

Hey [Manager’s Name],

Thanks for agreeing to meet with me today. I know you’ve got a lot going on, and I don’t want to add anything more to your plate, but there’s something I’d like to discuss. I’m hoping it won’t take more than a few minutes. Before I begin, I want you to know that I’m not here to vent or complain. There’s a situation that’s come up—that I’m a part of—and I’m here to find a solution, with your help. So here’s what’s happening:

Whenever [Other Person’s Name] does [describe the thing that’s causing the conflict], I feel [describe how you feel]. This situation has come up several times: [describe a couple of specific incidents]. I respect [Other Person’s Name] and I love being part of this team, but these feelings are making it harder for me to do my work, effectively. And while I can’t know for sure, I’d have to guess that this situation is affecting [Other Person’s Name] as well.

I want to resolve this before it turns into a bigger problem, for both of us. I’ve tried to resolve it on my own by [describe something you’ve tried], but that didn’t have the effect I was hoping for. I know there’s a good solution, but I’m not seeing it clearly, which is why I’m here seeking some help. I’m hoping that you might be willing to offer some guidance, hold a conversation with the two of us, or perhaps bring in an outside mediator or conflict resolution specialist. Again: I’m not here to vent or blame. I’m aware that I’m just as much a part of this conflict as the other person. I’d really like to find a solution that makes both of us happy and strengthens the team.

Thanks for listening.

“Something like that?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said. “If someone came into my office and said those words to me, calmly, I’d be seriously impressed. I’d think, ‘this is a great person to have around. Someone I can trust to remain cool under pressure, and someone I might want to promote to a leadership level, someday.’”

So, there you have it: A boss-approved script to use the next time you’ve got a workplace conflict.

Naturally, you may need to adjust the script depending on the nature of the conflict, your company’s policies, and your relationship with your boss. But the main thing to remember is:

You’re there to find solutions—not rant, tattle, or uncork your emotions. Channel your inner peace-maker, and go set things right.