No matter how agreeable you believe yourself to be, you’ll never be immune to interpersonal conflicts. The way you respond to them at work not only determines how your peers perceive you, but it also affects your ability to work, lead, and think effectively.
Surface disagreements, such as what to title a new project, aren’t likely to cause lasting issues. What does are personal disagreements: Ethical or values-based disputes often bleed through in small ways. Left unaddressed, they can put you and others in a constant state of stress.
You can’t force others to see things from your perspective, but you can prevent arguments from turning good relationships into hostile ones. You have to learn to manage your emotions and impulses without letting them dictate how you respond to colleagues, employees, and managers.
No matter how cool, calm, and collected you are, heated moments crop up at work.
The Art of Mindfulness
Just because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to act on that feeling. Your actions, not your thoughts, dictate who you are and how others perceive you.
This practice of quietly observing your own thoughts, called mindfulness, has become popular at work for a reason. Meditation apps are an easy way for stressed-out workers to find their center. But even if you don’t enjoy formal meditation, you can still learn to live in the moment.
“Mindfulness is really about calming down and being in touch with what is happening in the present moment,” says Lindsey Cameron, Wharton management professor. “What are your feelings? Maybe you have a growl in your stomach because you’re a little bit hungry. This is mindfulness. It’s basically tuning into what is already here.”
By directing all your attention toward the present moment, you can learn to ground yourself against the stressors of entrepreneurial life. The more you practice, the more easily you can reset to that calm, judgment-free state when you need to call upon your mental reserves.
Using Mindfulness to Get Along
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean failing to stand up for yourself when the moment requires. You don’t have to become the next Dalai Lama to get along with your co-workers. With a few simple shifts, you can gift yourself the clarity and confidence you need to respond positively to any situation.
1. Take two unplugged breaks per day.
Once in the morning and once in the afternoon, give yourself some time away from emails and meetings. Take a short walk outside. Find a quiet corner where you can read for 15 minutes. Simply enjoy a cup of coffee away from the bustle of business.
If your schedule allows, take one day each week as an extended break. “My rule is no screens on Sundays,” says Nirav Shah, CEO of Sentinel Healthcare. “It allows me to recharge, spend time with family, and come back Monday better rested and with new insights.”
2. Set specific boundaries on your availability.
If you don’t own your schedule, people will continue to ask for your time and energy until you have no choice but to say no. By waiting until a moment of high stress to turn someone down, you put yourself in a bad position. Set professional boundaries so you can point to those guidelines when your colleagues reach out after work hours or while you’re doing deep work.
Some people may not appreciate or respect your boundaries at first, especially if you’ve acted like a doormat for years. Don’t let some initial pushback stop you, though, and don’t allow yourself to harbor resentment if someone speaks to you in anger. Treat your boundaries as guidelines intended to benefit everyone, not just you.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk to a pro.
Even with the best intentions, you may not be able to keep your cool in every heated situation. Bad days happen to everyone. When a colleague pushes your buttons or a vendor refuses to respect your limits, you may need some outside help to see the wider context and consider next steps. In these circumstances, a professional counselor can do wonders for both your professional relationships and your mental health.
“Many of the smartest and most successful people in the world work with counselors to help them navigate the relationships in their lives,” says Steve Shaheen, a therapist at June Health. “Given that workplace relationships are filled with nuance and complexity, attempting to figure it all out on your own can lead to frustration. Experienced therapists have heard it all and can not only help you deal with your own feelings, but also recommend practical skills for any situation.”
4. Make the most of your workplace benefits.
With the unemployment rate at a record low, more companies — including yours, most likely — have started offering better benefits packages to keep workers engaged and happy. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to use the benefits they have. Instead of working yourself to death and lowering your morale, take advantage.
Taking more time off or actually using that paid gym membership will lower your stress levels, helping you be your best self at work. Even if you don’t have specific stress-reducing benefits, you can contact your health insurance provider to ask about the programs they offer. You may be surprised by what’s covered.
At work and elsewhere, you’ll always have to deal with difficult people. Don’t let their actions dictate yours. With a little practice (and maybe a little help from a pro), you can keep your cool — no matter how hot the situation gets.