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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Team Not Playing Nicely? 4 Ways to Deal With the Drama

We’ve all been there at some point—stuck on a project team that seems more like a scene from Mean Girls than a professional work environment. There’s the manager who won’t listen to anything that’s not part of his plan, or the colleague that seems to snap at everything you say, or—worst of all—the guy who lets everyone know what he thinks about their ideas, using quite a colorful array of profanity.

The truth is, we have to work with all kinds of people in our careers, and despite our best intentions, sometimes personalities clash more dramatically than outfits in an LMFAO video. But instead of running for the hills when things get tense, try the techniques below to rise above any drama and find peace with your teammates.

1. If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say…

Simple advice? Definitely. But we’ve all heard it so many times before because it’s an important rule—and one that’s often overlooked.

When a co-worker is acting inappropriately or challenging you on something, avoid stooping to her level. I know—when emotions are running high, it can be tempting to make a snide remark or engage in a back-and-forth argument, but take a few minutes to relax and regroup before you react.

Try a line like, “I understand your concerns and definitely want to talk this through with you. Why don’t we both take some time to cool off a bit and reconnect in an hour in the break room?” This validates the other person’s feelings and addresses the disagreement, but gives you both some space to simmer before you have an important conversation. And allowing yourself some time to process or vent to a trusted colleague helps you recollect your thoughts and respond more professionally when the time is right.

2. Kill ’em With Kindness

I’ll admit it, I learned this in my sorority years, and have always found it to be a great way to surprise someone during a conflict and redirect the conversation. When prompted with a hostile question or harsh feedback, responding with humility and a calm, measured tone is a surefire way to regain control of the situation and bring it down to a more comfortable level.

One way to do this is by controlling any sort of emotional reaction, and simply smiling and offer a polite response. (“You know, you’re right, this is a pretty bad location for a meeting—the acoustics in this room are terrible. Maybe you can help me find a better place for our next team event.”)

Chances are, it will totally disarm the negative energy that was headed your way. Most of the time, when people enter a conversation aggressively, they’re coming from a place of fear or insecurity. Reacting in a way that is non-confrontational and accommodating usually catches the other person so off guard, she’s immediately more open to hearing your side of the story and working together to find a solution.

3. Take it Outside

Well, maybe not literally, but if you can’t seem to strike a chord with a co-worker, try to get together somewhere other than a conference room or your sterile office. Go to lunch, happy hour, or even for a walk. A change in scenery can help de-escalate a hard conversation and allow you to talk things through in a neutral environment.

I was once completely taken aback when a team member confronted me in front of several others; she had misunderstood my actions on a really important project and was furious with me. Instead of hashing it out with an audience, I asked her if we could finish the conversation privately, and we ended up talking things out while we walked around our corporate campus. As soon as we left our workspace, she seemed to unwind a bit—plus, walking while talking eliminated any awkwardness of a face-to-face debate.

4. Don’t Take it Personally

Bottom line? It’s work. We’re all there for a reason, and the things we end up in conflict over often have little to do with us personally. So when things are a little upsetting or get you fired up, put that passion to good use. Invest it in your work and in finding common ground with your team instead of wasting time and energy in arguments or debates. You’ll shine as a leader and gain the respect of those around you as someone who can succeed in any situation.

When you think about it, we spend more time with co-workers than with most of our friends or family members, so getting along with them makes life a heck of a lot easier. Conflict among teams and individuals is a natural part of working together, but learning how to quickly and effectively resolve issues is a true key to productivity. It’s not always easy, but it’s absolutely worth the investment.

Photo of colleagues fighting courtesy of Shutterstock.