The Most Effective Ways to Avoid Office Drama
Written by Mandy Shold
I grew up an only child. While I don’t subscribe to most of the stereotypes associated with this, I did struggle in my relationship with my peers. In school, I always dreaded group projects. My experience in “team” sports was limited to being a competitive gymnast and a track star. I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not antisocial. In fact, I’m actually quite extroverted! But without sibling rivalry and healthy competition at home, I struggled to figure out how I related to my peers—a struggle that carried over into the beginning of my professional career.
During my first couple of years in PR, the majority of the conversations with my manager weren’t centered around my skills or quality of work. Instead, this time was spent figuring out how to deal with personal conflict or tip-toeing around office drama. I had my manager review more of my in-office correspondence than anything I ever sent to a client. And though, at first, I found myself wondering if any of these nuances really mattered, I eventually found that navigating these details was key to my professional (and personal) development.
The truth is, women have it harder than men in the workplace. Not only do we have to be just as competent as men, but we also have to possess the “softer skills.” Women don’t want to be seen as aggressive or confrontational—qualities often associated with our male counterparts—and instead choose conflict avoidance strategies, most commonly passive aggression. Not only do we have to navigate our actual jobs and the not-so-subtle confrontation that often follows, but we also tend to take conflict more personally, leading to a disruptive office environment.
I think it’s possible that learning those “softer skills” gives us an advantage: By putting in the hard work to learn how to communicate with people effectively, it just might help our hustles run a little more smoothly. So, here are three ways you can apply those skills to your advantage; three key things you can do avoid any unnecessary confrontation and play nice in the office sandbox:
Do you remember when your mother taught you to "treat others the way you want to be treated"? Well, the reverse applies as well! Tailor all your correspondence to the individual. If your boss is always behind on emails, see how they react to you "swinging by" with questions rather than clogging their inbox. If they send you bulleted list or finish all their emails by going over next steps, they'd likely appreciate if you followed suit in your responses. Not only will they appreciate your attention to detail, it never hurts when they see a little of themselves in you.
2. Pause Before You Respond
If you're like me, most of your work correspondence seems to be done over email. In fact, most mornings I've sent nearly a dozen emails before even muttering my first words of the day. With so much weight in your words, it's important to stay calm, cool and collected over email—an especially difficult task in a fast-paced office environment. To do this, always make sure to pause before responding to those more "difficult" messages. You know, the notes where your boss is being irrational or you're convinced your coworker is throwing you under the bus. Step away. Get a second opinion on your response. Brew yourself some tea. Grab a snack (no one likes an email you sent while hangry, anyway). Then, and only then, should you hit send. I can't tell you how many times this has allowed me to change my response or pump the brakes before getting defensive. Hell, I've even started using this technique when texting my boyfriend! You'd be amazed how helpful this is.
3. Be Understanding
Remember, first and foremost, they are human, too. Make an effort to know your coworkers outside of the office. No, I'm not saying you have to overindulge together on tequila Tuesday or wine Wednesday, but ask them about their vacation or if they have any exciting weekend plans. Simply asking them how their kid's softball game went or how it was hosting their mother-in-law for dinner will show you're interested, attentive and, most importantly, kind.
In the last three years I've spent working in PR, I've seen my relationship with women change drastically. With the help of these great tricks, as well as a few great coworkers and friends, my once unhealthy fear of female competition and confrontation has been replaced by supportive relationships in my office and beyond. And now, being a member of the Babes Who Hustle community, I’ve found a group of talented, ambitious and welcoming women who are supportive rather than competitive; who actually take joy in each other’s successes. Above all else, make sure you surround yourself with women who motivate you, who encourage you, who inspire you.
Because the truth is, we’re all in this together. We might as well start acting like it.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on Twitter at @WayToRepresent.