When it comes to the workplace, interpersonal relationships can be delicate to navigate. Different personalities can clash, cliques can form, people can feel left out or overly involved. Smaller office spaces and less people in an office means everyone is close to everyone, and this can sometimes lead to minor clashes and tensions.
So how do you handle it?
In our office, we’ve learned the key to resolving internal tensions is the tried-and-true method of open communication. As we’ve grown, our team has gone through several iterations, and while each new member has made us better, the changes haven’t always been smooth sailing.
Here are some methods we’ve used to ensure our office is a positive, supportive place – for everyone.
Set realistic expectations
When working in a shared space, you’ll have to endure your coworkers’ quirks. You might have a loud chewer in your office or someone whose careful speech patterns constantly verge on condescending. These things are annoying but most likely not worth complaining about. There’s a difference between unintentional annoyances, like our loud chewer, and someone being disrespectful or intentionally aggravating.
Oftentimes, we ourselves can be unintentionally annoying or disruptive, which is why it’s equally as important to be self-aware.
Before you start indulging your irritations, consider your own habits and quirks. Just like the loud chewer aggravates you, your strongly-scented teas might bother her. If she hasn’t complained, think twice before elevating the problem. We all do things that are strange or frustrating for others, so be mindful of the impact you have on your office and how your colleagues respond to it.
Of course, sometimes things can’t be ignored. In these cases, it’s best to address the problem.
Address the problem
It may seem easiest to ignore social tensions and hope everyone involved simply ‘works things out,’ but this can lead to festering resentment and increased negativity. Help create a calm, non-judgmental environment where anyone feeling frustrated can articulate their frustrations. This is not a facilitation of finger-pointing and blame-casting; instead, it’s a time for everyone to respectfully address the issues and feel heard.
If you’re a manager, check in with your team regularly to make sure everything is going well. Try as you might, you won’t be able to see everything that goes on between your subordinates, so you’ll have to rely on them to be open with you. Give them one-on-one opportunities to speak their minds without fear of repercussions. Solve small disputes before they have the chance to balloon into large ones. Be present and compassionate to your team.
If you’re a subordinate, seek help. Speak to your superiors. It doesn’t have to be in an official capacity with HR involved (unless the situation warrants it), but just voicing your unhappiness can go a long way towards resolving tension. Sometimes we just need to be heard.
If the problem has been aired, it’s time to work together to find a positive resolution.
There’s a classic The Office episode about this called Conflict Resolution. In it, Michael Scott runs through several conflict resolution options, finally settling upon his favorite option, one that puts himself squarely into the scenario: “With win/win/win, we all win. Me too. I win for having successfully mediated a conflict at work.” It’s silly, but mediating a conflict successfully is a win for you! Be proud of what you’ve done (but maybe don’t go full Michael Scott).
There are usually options that can benefit everyone in some way, so think through the problem from all angles before coming to a decision. Compromise is best and usually possible.
If you’re a manager, take conflicts seriously and give them thought before coming to a decision. If you’re unsure of what to do, consult an outside source. Our CEO Owen often calls friends who have been in similar positions – fellow CEOS and professional leaders – to ask what they’d do in this situation. Don’t think you have to figure it all out on your own; make contacts, use them, and strengthen your company.
If you’re a subordinate, offer to give a little to get a little. Don’t expect the office to bend to your will. Instead, suggest alternative options that are at least a little beneficial for everyone, not just yourself. This will ensure everyone involved realizes you’re not trying to attack or undermine but genuinely reach a resolution.
How do you handle interpersonal tensions in your office? And, more importantly, what’s your favorite episode of The Office?
Drop a comment below and let us know, or find us on social media - @bluesummitsupp on Twitter, @BlueSummitSupplies on Instagram, and Blue Summit Supplies on Facebook! If you have any questions or just want to say hi, send Larry an email.
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