Andersson-projectmanagement
Kenneth Andersson for HBR

I wish he would just get fired.

How is it that rational, good, understanding, kind, collaborative people like you and me can get so triggered by certain colleagues’ work performance that our minds race with how we want them to get out of our lives and work — in any way possible? We come up with long diatribes of the million and one reasons why they need to get their act together — or, better yet, disappear. We don’t care whether they get fired, get a different job, move away, whatever. We just know they’re causing us increased stress, and we want them gone.

But what if the key to being free of this stress isn’t about them at all, but about us?

In my research and experience as a time management coach, and in my work developing my new book, Divine Time Management, I’ve discovered that people often jump to blaming others in conflict. But instead of reducing their stress, having an accusatory mindset toward others only fuels the frustration. To defuse the situation and return to a place of peace, you must first examine your own contribution to the conflict — no matter how small.

I understand that in the heat of the moment this is the last thing you want to do. You feel you’ve been so mistreated and are so offended that it’s extremely hard to see how any of this negative energy you’re experiencing may have anything to do with you. But when we take ownership of our reaction to others’ actions, we can be free to be happy and productive, no matter what they do.

What does this look like in a practical sense? Here are a few tips that can help.

Clarify exactly what happened. When you’re agitated by what someone did or didn’t do — whether your thoughts are racing or you’re even feeling physical tension — there’s most likely something below the surface. Examine the situation that got you so upset and explore the broader context. Ask yourself: Was something else going on in my life that had an impact on how I saw this event? Had something happened previously in this work relationship that affected how I saw this person? Am I tired, stressed, hungry, hot, or in any other way mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically not at my best? Identify any external factors at play, particularly those that might have nothing to do with your counterpart or conflict.

Explore why it triggered you. Your emotional reaction to a situation with someone has more to do with you than with them. In my experience, when I respond in a negative way to someone, it signals my own hurt, insecurity, or fear. For example, if you are feeling confident about the projects you’re working on, your relationships with people at work, and your overall team performance, someone dropping the ball on a few things may slightly annoy you but won’t infuriate you. You’ll simply pull the person aside, talk about what got off track, develop systems to prevent the situation in the future, and monitor the situation from there. But when you’re feeling uncertain about your projects, believe that people think badly of you at work, and are insecure about your team’s performance, one little slipup could send you over the edge. Instead of calmly working with a coworker on improvements, you could end up lashing out at her or going behind her back to try to get rid of the problem. Identify what core insecurity or fear is causing you to respond so critically.

You and Your Team Series

Conflict

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