How to Overcome a Workplace Confrontation

Most people don’t enjoy confrontation—especially when it happens in the workplace.

Engaging in an office confrontation can leave you feeling uncomfortable and even remorseful. Whether the clash was your fault or your colleague’s, participating in an office conflict can bring irreparable reputational damage. But before you start hiding in your cubicle or start looking for another job, consider this seven-step guide to help you repair any damage:

Own your part. Even if the other person started it, or is responsible for escalating it, remember it takes two to fight. No matter what part you played, you can learn something about how you handled the situation and how to avoid a similar problem in the future. Placing all the blame on the other person is childish, unprofessional and will get you nowhere fast. Consider spending some time being honest with yourself and letting go of your stubbornness. Your goal is to move on from this without it having long-term repercussions.

Allow for a cooling off period. It’s very important to address and resolve the issue directly with the other person, but before you do, allow time for both of you to calm down and release some anger. Trying to address the problem while still mad can lead to round two, so let some time pass to allow cooler heads to prevail.

Address the issue. When both sides are calm, address the issue immediately. The last thing you want to do is let ill feelings fester, making the situation worse. You want to own your part and also be direct and clear about what you believe went wrong. However, be sure to listen more than you talk. The other person will probably have a completely different account of what happened. The goal is to achieve a resolution. If you can’t come to a meeting of the minds, consider asking your manager to mediate.

Apologize when appropriate. Avoid being stubborn and unwilling to apologize. It is possible that the other person won’t apologize, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Someone has to lead the two of you out of this mess. No one said you have to love everyone you work with, but to be a successful professional, you must find a way rise above this situation and move on. Showing good will by apologizing is a good place to start.

Make sure the issue is resolved. Harboring ill feelings toward each other will lead to decreased productivity and could affect office morale. You can agree to disagree, but make sure you have a resolution, and if appropriate, a mutual acknowledgement of your difference in opinion. But once you do, it’s time to move forward.

Refrain from gossiping. Gossiping with other coworkers about the incident or the other person is a mistake that could damage your reputation even further. Don’t do it. If you need to get this off your chest, call someone who doesn’t work in the office. Having said that, what might be beneficial is soliciting feedback from someone you trust about the fight and how to resolve it.

Remember time heals all wounds. Even if after you’ve worked through this process, and still feel unsettled, remember that time helps heal wounds. You and your colleague can repair your relationship, it just might take some time. Just remember this situation and all that you’ve learned from it so next time your patience are tried, you will react in a more professional manner.

Lindsay Broder, The Occupreneur™ Coach (on Twitter @occupreneur), is a certified professional coach based in New York. A Wall Street veteran, she specializes in Occupreneur™ coaching, strategy and crisis management services for executives, business leaders and organizations who strive to improve their businesses or careers.