Interpersonal EDGE: Reduce Anxiety to Engage Stonewalling Co-worker
Monday, April 12, 2010

By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Media Services
Q. What can you do or say to a person when you have an office conflict if they refuse to engage you in dialogue, and gossip about you from afar? Aren't there some people who just won't talk about problems?
A. You are correct that not everyone is capable of conversation. You are also correct that an individual who refuses to talk with you can make your workplace miserable. I interviewed Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., psychologist and author, because her bestselling book, "The Dance of Anger," tackles this exact question. Dr. Lerner points out that all workplaces have the anxiety of unresolved conflict. She emphasizes four points in coping with difficult people at work:
1) Don't take their behavior personally. Understand that when people are anxious they think and can act like reptiles. Immature and obnoxious behavior of a boss, coworker or customer is more a result of anxiety than a personal attack on you.
2) "Strike when the iron is cold," says Dr. Lerner. If you say the first thing that comes into your head, you will say too much. Take time to think strategically about what will get results. Keep it short and don't attack all the issues at once. Pick one battle and state your goal without blaming.
3) Anxiety is contagious but so is calm. Don't contribute to the anxiety of your workplace by gossiping, attacking or blaming. Find people outside the workplace you can talk to so you are less upset. If you don't wait until you calm down, you'll have an edge to what you say that will render your message ineffective. Do what you can to be calm in the presence of the other party.
4) Understand that you can leave your job if need be. If you're convinced otherwise, you won't be able to act on your principles, say what you think, and take a clear position on issues that matter.
The bottom line is that there will always be a few difficult people in any workplace. When conversation is not possible, we can still contribute to an office war ceasefire by thoughtfully refusing to do or say anything that increases anxiety. 
Q. I want to try my hand at a new career but am afraid I will fail. How do I weigh out the risks versus the benefits?
A. Ask yourself what you can live with more easily, the embarrassment of temporary failure or the permanent regret of never trying what you dream of?
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.INTERPERSONAL EDGE. DISTRIBUTED BY TMS

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