What do you do when someone in your office is being difficult? Two stories come to mind. One has a happy ending the other, well, time will tell.
A friend who works at a thriving company in town described a fellow worker who always seemed down right mean. These two were always at odds about identifying problems and coming up with solutions. For months, it was a stalemate. Then one day, my friend, after being part of a discussion on Civility that Ron and I were leading, decided to try something new. He went up to the guy and said, “Look, I don’t know why we always disagree. Can I buy you a cup of coffee and let’s get to know each other.” An amazing thing happened; they shared coffee, both opened up to the other and their relationship changed. A breakthrough occurred. What is to be learned from this story is that someone has to make the first move. Someone needs to begin a relationship. That someone can be you.
Unfortunately there is not always a happy ending. The other day I heard another story from another friend. “There is a guy at work who seems nice most of the time but if you get on his bad side, he can be a real jerk. There is a small two-person restroom down a narrow corridor. I went to use the facilities. The door was open and this guy was standing at the mirror finishing up. As I entered he glared at me and said: ‘You are so inconsiderate. Decent people would wait until I had finished.’ He stormed out of the restroom. When I was finished I went to him and apologized: ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt you, forgive me.’ He glared at me again and said ‘go to hell.’
It is one thing to be civil with someone else who wants to be civil too. It is quite something else when you are confronting someone who is a difficult person. The fact is, sometimes your civility is met with incivility. The first thing to remember to take that moment NOT to retaliate (and sometimes that is really difficult to do.) Sometimes it is better to simply walk away and wait for another day. Your civility may bear fruit in time. If the other folks in the office are treating each other well, then this difficult person is isolated and may be forced to change just because the overall mood in the office won’t tolerate it. It may be that in a day or two, you go back to the uncivil person and see if you begin to build a relationship. It may be that the office manager or boss needs to hear about the incident.
Civility is not just about being nice. The keys to civil engagement include a willingness to forge a relationship. This takes courage. Civility in the office place requires truth telling. Maybe it IS something about YOU that needs to change first. Take a look at your own behavior. Reaching a satisfying outcome takes persistence; it may take awhile but if you don’t try nothing will ever change. Make sure your relationships with other office mates are honest and civil. It may be that someone else can break through.
Creating a workplace that is civil leads to productivity. So good luck and claim civility as a bedrock value in your office.