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What To Do When Someone Pisses You Off At Work

Every week in my consulting work advising senior executives on the people side of the business equation, someone invariably will tell me about a colleague or employee doing something that pisses them off. And, I will ask, “Did you talk to them about it? More often than not, they will respond, “Not yet, or, Nope, and I probably won’t.” And I will then ask, “Why not?” The most frequent answers circle around the following: “It won’t do any good,” or, “It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” or “The risk of it going sideways is worse than letting it go.”

I agree, it’s dicey having a conversation with another person about something they did that is a problem for you. And, sometimes we do have to make a risk/reward assessment that might end up in not taking any direct assertive action… for the time being. But, if you conclude that it’s necessary and important that you do something assertive about it, there are a few steps you can follow to increase the likelihood that the conversation will be constructive.

  1. Start with yourself. Get yourself centered by assuming that the other person is not consciously trying to tick you off. Most people don’t wake up thinking, “How can I annoy my colleagues today?” There are a few narcissists and sociopaths who wake up thinking about ways to get the upper hand but, for the most part, most people (99% — my unscientific guess) go to work just wanting to do a good job. We call this: “assuming positive intent.” By assuming positive intent, you are more likely to listen well and respond more productively because you won’t be expecting or assuming the worse. You will be less emotionally worked up and therefore, less likely to be primed to go on the attack.

The odds are that if you get to step 10… you will be able to put into place some corrective changes that you both agree to. Then, be sure to uphold your end of the bargain and keep your fingers crossed that they will too. Otherwise, you will need to do this again but with even more ammunition next time. And, if you try this a couple times with someone and they keep dropping the ball when you escalate this to your boss, you can honestly say you tried to resolve this on your own. No boss wants to get sucked into resolving conflict if the warring parties haven’t first tried to resolve it themselves. As one of my CEO clients once told two warring executives, “I pay you way too much to have to be your referee. Figure out how to work together better or you will be looking for another job.”

Carl is a business psychologist and leadership development expert who focuses on the development of high performance leaders.

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