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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Make Your Life a Grudge-Free Zone: Advice From Cathie Black

One of my favorite subjects is that of office grudges. I know, sounds weird, doesn't it? But holding grudges about things real and perceived happens all the time at work (and outside of work, too), and it’s an enormous waste of energy and emotion.

Here’s a true incident that I remember well and have put to use on any number of occasions. Picture this scene: Our head of distribution came flying into my office, red-faced and practically shouting, "Why didn't I get invited to the meeting this afternoon?" I looked up in near astonishment at this usually very buttoned-up person and said, "Which meeting?" (My daily calendar, as usual, was jammed with many meetings.) She told me which one it was, and I replied: "Well, just go to it. The attendees will have no idea who was formally invited."

She blubbered something about being really annoyed about not being on the invite list, and I said, "Get over it. I’m sure you were left off inadvertently. Just go and act like you were supposed to be there."

She begrudgingly went to the meeting, where, of course, she learned that it had been an oversight—it was by pure accident that the organizer had left her off the list. If she had stuck to her guns and not shown up—or worse—gone into the meeting screaming about not being invited, what good would that have done?

Now, I might not suggest that "just show up" advice for any big-time meeting, but my point is: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't personalize things that aren't personal. And don't hold a grudge about a situation or person. It will do nothing to move your ball forward—and after all, isn't that the name of the game?

Offices are just like families. You are thrust into close relationships with people you might not normally socialize with—or even like, for that matter. And just as in families, this provides all kinds of opportunities for conflict. (I say this because people tend to think that more conflict exists than is actually the case.)

So, view conflict as a normal outgrowth of office life and try to learn how to deal with it. First, stop taking personally some tossed-out remark or stray comment—just like your aunt’s off-the-cuff remarks at Thanksgiving, your co-workers typically don’t mean any harm. And you don't want to start making mountains out of molehills. Just let it go and get on with the task at hand.

Or, if someone is really causing a problem, you can take her aside, privately, and tell her how her words or attitude are off-putting and then try to restart your relationship on better footing. Believe me, sometimes people really don't know that their behavior sets a bad example or sucks the air out of the room.

One example that I still remember: A senior-level associate who reported directly to me would always arrive at our larger meetings with that extra, last-minute piece of information that I had not seen beforehand. Frankly, it drove me crazy. It felt like he always wanted to be the smartest guy in the room, and it really wore on me.

So I followed my advice—I sat down with him and explained exactly how I felt. And he listened to my feedback and agreed to implement a new protocol, where we’d meet a day or so before any big meeting to review all the facts and figures. It diffused any discord between us and I didn't feel blindsided in front of my top team.

Did I have affection for this executive? No, but I did have respect—and after this conversation, we established a more productive work relationship.

No one is perfect, nor will they behave perfectly all the time. So, try to let petty annoyances roll off your back unless they really are important—and then try to address the situation quickly.

Finally, always remember the end game: getting the job done as a team. Don't get sucked into non-productive behavior that holds you back from this, especially holding grudges. Keep your eye on the goal of achieving great results—which is far more important and will allow your reputation to grow in the right ways.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.