Our career paths are impacted by all the people we encounter. Those encounters, good and bad, inevitably evoke a response, and how we handle each individual, how we react to those encounters, will have a powerful impact on our successes and failures. When an encounter is positive and we have a productive meeting or exchange, it’s easy to shake hands, exchange business cards, and help out the individual we’ve engaged with.
Argumentative or otherwise negative exchanges with professionals makes it difficult for anyone to maintain their composure. As tough as such exchanges can be, it is critical to our ultimate career success that we remain calm, rational, and professional.
Handling Stressful Encounters
There is no way to avoid it. At some point, every professional finds himself in a stressful situation. Whether it’s a job interview or an encounter with an angry and belligerent colleague, stress mounts making it hard to remain calm, focus and deal with the situation rationally.
The urge to snap back at another can be overwhelming and tough to resist. However, remaining professional is essential for continued employment and/or maintaining a cohesive workspace.
Whether in a meeting or in a one-on-one meeting in an office or break room, it is critical that professionals take a breath before responding to harsh words or actions on the part of a colleague. I advise my clients to excuse themselves from these situations and only return once they have relaxed and composed themselves.
In the event you doubt it possible to continue a conversation with someone in a rational, productive way, speak with a colleague or supervisor and ask for their assistance in handling the situation. Should an angry confrontation occur with your supervisor, seek out an HR representative or designated mediator to guide future engagements with the individual. Based on the level of aggression shown by a colleague, you might seek to report the incident to a superior or HR advisor.
In the event you were the aggressor and at fault for causing an argument, apologize for your behavior. We are all human and make mistakes. Own up to such mistakes. For those who struggle to manage their anger, I strongly advise seeking the aid of a counselor, preferably one specialized in anger management or anger resolution therapy.
Etiquette In The Workplace
Difficult encounters aside, requiring their own set of etiquette guidelines, there are general protocols that are generally accepted across industries with regards to showing proper etiquette. No one is perfect; we all end up making a professional misstep now and again. Yet, keeping the following guidelines in mind, you should have fewer slipups as you progress in your career.
1. Maintain a Professional Presence.
Yes, part of this means treating colleagues and superiors with respect and dignity at all times, both in and out of work environments. Yet, there is a deeper level to your professional presence. How you interact with colleagues, clients and supervisors across all spheres needs to be polite, professional and friendly. This means whether you are in a meeting, on the phone or exchanging messages via email, it is critical to remain polite and avoid angry exchanges.
If you are about to send an email or leave a phone message fueled by anger, step away and compose yourself. What’s more, before sending any email or leaving a message on voicemail, talk over the situation with a trusted colleague or supervisor. Try to see the situation from the other person’s standpoint, and only engage after reflecting on the situation and your planned response.
2. Create Professional Profiles.
Your email username, voicemail greeting, social media engagements, and manner of engaging others through mail correspondence are a core part of your professional self. Consequently, use mature/professional usernames (i.e. email@example.com) instead of immature or vulgar ones (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org).
As for your profiles and engagement on platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, be polite and professional in your posts and in the messages you exchange with colleague, superiors, clients and the general population. Do not use a work-related profile or platform for expressing opinions not related to your job! In other words, no political rants or similar tirades on LinkedIn.
3. Show and Encourage Respect.
I think we all have encountered two colleagues bickering in a public space. Such exchanges fuel discord amongst the ranks and make the company appear unprofessional. Calmly speak with the colleagues and ask that they continue their discussion in a neutral space such as your office.
As for how fellow employees address others over the phone or in email/letter exchanges, seek to put in place protocols for greeting customers or clients. Should you encounter a colleague who tends to be abrasive in their encounters with others, effort to have someone that individual respects or a supervisor speak to them regarding their behavior.
I realize there is a fine line between being helpful and being a self-righteous busy body. Use your own judgement in such matters or seek guidance from a superior or HR professional.
4. Train New Staff in Accepted Protocols.
When new staff are hired, don’t wait to see what their style of engagement is. Incorporate expected workplace etiquette in introduction packets/information and trainings held.
5. Maintain Proper Etiquette Outside The Workplace.
It’s hard for a professional to be polite during work hours when he is angry and confrontational outside of work. Such behavior needs to be eliminated in all spheres of engagement. For friends and family, respectfully approach them and voice concerns you may have in how they treat others.
Encourage them to seek counseling for serious anger management issues. If a colleague indicates you have been aggressive in tone or action, take a step back and view your recent engagements with others. If necessary, seek a counselor’s support in addressing severe anger issues. Leave no room in your life for aggressiveness or poor etiquette.
Our actions and words significantly impact our lives, particularly our career success as poor etiquette often leads to a failure to successfully collaborate with colleagues or secure a client’s business. These realities in mind, it is incumbent upon all of us to manage our frustrations and stress appropriately, seek polite exchanges to settle disagreements, to learn to forgive and forget. Failing to do so, we look to having a career with little success and days filled with stress, anxiety, frustration and anger.