Ever since I learned how to talk, my dad’s told me again and again: You don’t always have to get the last word in.
He said this repeatedly because I had a tendency to try and prove I was right, even if it didn’t really matter. One time in grade school, I questioned the grammar choices of my friend’s mom during the ride home from soccer practice. Was this necessary? Nope. I knew exactly what she was trying to say, but I had to assert my superior intelligence (as all obnoxious 10-year-olds do).
That was a very, very small and insignificant battle, yet I chose to fight it with the tenacity of a college professor grading a plagiarized paper. And the result? I won, but I looked like a huge brat. Winning had no positive outcome in this instance because there was absolutely no point to it.
Flash forward to today, and I’ve thankfully learned to bite my tongue when someone slips up (most of the time). I picked up on the fact that not every fight can be fought and, more importantly, not every fight should be fought. And this is especially true when it comes to work.
If you’re finding yourself struggling with whether or not to voice your concerns about a problem in the office, I strongly suggest you ask yourself these questions before forging ahead. The last thing you want to do is become America’s Next Toxic Colleague.
1. Why Is This Bothering Me?
There’s a certain reason the issue’s causing you to clench your jaw—and the first thing you need to figure out is why. By working through this before speaking up, I’ve noticed that some things simply bother me on principle alone, not because they’re actually a threat to my productivity, success, or job satisfaction.
When you get to this point, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is this problem decreasing my ability to do my job the best I can?
- Is this problem impacting my health, safety, or general well-being?
If you answer no to both, you can probably let it go and get back to business.
But what if, though the problem isn’t directly impacting you, it’s affecting your team? Well then, I have good news for you: It’s not your job to fight your co-workers’ battles for them. That doesn’t mean you should ignore all problems and blatantly let your teammates fail, but if it doesn’t seem to be bothering them, then maybe it isn’t as big of a deal as you think.
2. What Is Your Desired End Result?
After deciding the problem does in fact need to be resolved, ask yourself this: What are you expecting to get out of this conversation? If you’re just looking for someone to tell you that you’re right—pause for a second. Because know that when you raise an issue at work, you should ideally also have a few solutions lined up. Even one idea for a possible fix is better than nothing.
For example, let’s say your co-worker, Lisa, is constantly making last-minute changes to reports you’ve already finalized, causing you to scramble minutes before the deadline. If you choose to bring this up to her, you should also propose two options, such as: You change the project timeline and pass off the report to Lisa earlier on in the process, or you come to an agreement that no edits can be made on the due date of the report.
But what if you don’t have any thoughts on how to rectify it? That’s OK. There will be situations in which you don’t know the answer. However, that doesn’t get you off the hook. Instead, you should be able to explain why it’s a problem—as well as what direction the TBD solution would take you in.
Let’s say you find out Lisa is always submitting late requests because she’s drowning in work. You’re not her manager, so you don’t really have much say about the projects she’s assigned. However, you can tell your boss that you’d like to work together to find a solution to the problem so that your timeline is no longer negatively impacted.
The clearer you can be about your desired outcome, the more likely it is that’ll happen. Remember, no one’s a mind reader, not even your boss.
While I am encouraging you not to pick every battle, that doesn’t mean I think you should let them all pass by. If something really needs to be addressed, your voice deserves to be heard. Just make sure your feedback is constructive and builds a solid case for why the change needs to happen. In short, be the opposite of 10-year-old me.
TopicsTools & Skills , Co-Workers , Syndication , Conflict Resolution , Work Relationships , Communication
Abby is a writer, career coach, and health educator living in Portland, Maine. When she’s not trying to make the world a happier and healthier place, you can find her cuddling with her cats, hunting down the city's best coffee and grilled cheese, or dipping her toes in the Atlantic. Say hi on Twitter .More from this Author