Thursday, January 31, 2008

Resolving Conflicts with Colleagues

This is a biggie no matter what line of work anyone is in. I tried to make it a practice of never talking behind someone’s back and it really helped me in all of the jobs that I have held. School are small communities or societies, and if you want to survive, you need to have some basic groundrules for yourself that you will live by. This was a main one that I followed and it helped me develop some great relationships with my colleagues because they trusted me. I also made it very clear to my friends and colleagues that I worked with (including the janitor) that I would not talk behind their backs and I hope they would do the same for me.

If I had a problem with a colleague, I would talk to them privately without anyone else around at a time when I could talk calmly about the situation. I tried to use all those techniques you learn in college about not making them defensive. I started to talk about how I was having a problem because this always makes the other person more receptive. I would state the whole situation very matter of fact, as objective as I could be. I would use phrases like “I felt… I perceived…it made me” I then made sure that the other person saw that I understood this was my problem (it really was since I was the one that was upset and not them) and asked for their help in resolving my problem. By approaching it this way, it opened up the lines of communication and they were able to share things from their perspective. I had to constantly remind myself not to get defensive and talk calmly because I might learn something that I hadn’t thought of. I didn’t always come away satisfied that the problem was fixed but I gained a better respect for my colleague and I hope they felt that way about me.

This worked really well one day when my trash can was not emptied for 3 days. I actually talked to the person who cleaned my room and asked if there was any problem that I could help them with. By doing this, I found out that her daughter had a serious health problem and she had to leave early those 3 days. She was under the impression that someone had been taking over her duties and didn’t realize no one had been. Instead of complaining about her behind her back, I first wanted to talk to her and confront the problem. This kept a lot of bad feelings from happening and helped our relationship.

I have also had an April Fool’s joke pulled on me by my students. One student who was pregnant pretended to be in labor and the whole class went along with it. Apparently another teacher had thought it was funny and encouraged them to do this. Of course I freaked out and called the nurse, who called her mother, and other officials. My students then freaked out about the magnitude of the situation and no one announced that it was all a joke. I found out the next class period when the girl’s sister asked me if I enjoyed the joke! Then I had to go call everyone off to tell them it was a joke played on me. After getting in touch with everyone, I marched down to the other teacher’s room to tell her that I was furious with her. When she found out what had happened she told me she was sorry, and that there was nothing she could do to change what happened, and she hoped that I would get over being mad at her because she didn’t mean for it to ruin our friendship. It took me a couple of days but I got over it and we are still friends almost 30 years later.

I’m not saying that the outcome will always be positive but I feel that I am seen more as a professional if I stay away from saying something about someone without telling them to their face. I have even been known to tell someone after the fact that they came up in a topic of conversation and what I had said. This way, in case someone else brings it to their attention, they can respond that they already know about it. Sometimes we don’t always come to an agreement about the subject but at least the other person knows that I’m honest and then we can agree to disagree. I really believe the key to a successful relationship with colleagues is open communication.


j m holland said...

Hi Looney,
Great advice for any line of work., especially teaching.

loonyhiker said...

jmholland: Glad you liked it. I wish more and more people would agree to doing this. Thanks for reading.

Ms Characterized said...

Thanks for the insight! Great post.