In 1999, not long after starting my first corporate job, I had the pleasure of enduring a performance review. My manager (we’ll call him Tim) had already accepted a new position within the company but was pulled back temporarily to co-facilitate my review with his replacement.
I don’t remember the overall rating Tim gave me, nor the whopping salary increase I’m sure I didn’t receive, but I’ll never forget what he said.
Near the end of the tag-team critique, he summed up my abilities and contributions this way: “Melissa, you’re pushy, overbearing and abrasive.”
Because these were words that had never before been used to describe me, I was shocked. However, I did my best to maintain my composure—and then turned the tables.
Here’s what I said: “Can you give me an example of a time when you’ve seen me being pushy, overbearing or abrasive? I just want to make sure I understand how these characteristics are affecting my performance.”
“No,” he replied, “it’s just a general observation.”
Call it intuition (or youthful stubbornness), but I decided right then that his inability to provide a concrete example meant that he just didn’t like me. He wasn’t trying to help—he was being mean.
So I told him, “Let me know if you see this behavior in the future. That way I’ll be able to assess my actions and make job-related improvements.” And that concluded my review.
Since then, I have encountered numerous scenarios where employees have been subjected to unsubstantiated generalizations and other power-trip antics.
Here are a few conflict management strategies you can use:
- Always being interrupted? If your boss or a colleague is a big talker who never lets you get a word in edgewise, be diplomatic but hold your ground. Say, “Please make your point when I’ve finished mine.”
- Got a parrot on your shoulder? Some people have trouble articulating their point of view, so they’ll try to repeat yours instead. When a copycat comment echoes in your ears, rather than say, “I just said that,” try this: “Thanks for affirming my position.”
- Not getting the credit you deserve? Particularly with a conflict in the workplace, keep emotions out of it. Stick to the facts. Say, “Perhaps you’re unaware of my role in . . . “
Before you act . . .
Don’t be a doormat. For starters, practice using positive thinking as an antidote to poisonous office politics. And learn how to stand up to bad guys without stooping to their level. They won’t like it—but they’ll probably respect your gumption.
P.S. I’m working on a new online course called Bad Boss Survival Kit, and I want to hear from you. What is the worst workplace conflict you’ve ever encountered? Comment below.