Arguments with coworkers are inevitable. Conflicts may arise during projects, collaborations, or day-to-day personality clashes and tensions. While small-scale tiffs may not require you and your coworker to hash it out, larger-scale conflicts may demand a conversation. So how do you win an argument—or, rather, resolve a conflict and influence people—with a coworker without making her hate you?
Don’t let it simmer
Let’s say your team made a mistake, and your coworker let you take the blame. You’re probably feeling hurt, confused, and angry. So what do you do now? Do you let it stew, since confrontation can be awkward?
In a smaller-scale conflict, ignoring the argument and moving on might be the best approach. But if something feels like a big deal to you, you’re probably not going to let it go. If you sit on it and let it simmer, you’re probably going to get increasingly angry, which might lead you to a full-blown fight.
If something is bothering you to the point where you’re preoccupied by it, don’t let it sit there. Ask the other person if you can speak privately. That way, you’ll be able to articulate what’s bothering you without having it escalate into a debate.
Start sentences with “I”
When you do argue with a colleague, deliver your points from the “I” perspective. Rather than saying, “You do this,” explain how the other person’s behavior makes you feel. Starting sentences with “I feel pushed aside” or “I’m upset because” keeps you from casting blame on the other person, and will make it less likely for her to respond in a defensive manner.
Stay in control of your emotions when you argue
If you’re screaming at your coworker, you’ve already lost. Your arguments and position will carry more weight if you articulate them thoughtfully and reasonably. While it may be difficult to explain your point of view without getting emotional, try your hardest to keep tears and anger at bay.
Stick to facts
Facts carry more weight than feelings when you're arguing with someone. If you're making a good argument, you will describe what’s absolutely true, and the other person will have a difficult time arguing with you. While you may want to go a step further and explain how her behavior affects you, starting with the bare facts will help you solidify your point and lay the groundwork for the thesis of your argument. Keep in mind that the other person may dispute facts with you; however, if the truth is on your side, you have the upper hand.
Be honest without being rude
Honesty is important in an argument. However, if your honesty veers into meanness, your opponent may have trouble sympathizing with your point of view, since you’ve likely hurt her feelings.
For instance, if your colleague consistently parks too close to your car, you might be tempted to accuse her of having poor driving skills. Instead, stick to the particular situation at hand. Explain that it has been difficult for you to open your door. Perhaps you have a specific incident to use as an example. Ask her to watch the space to make it easier for both of you in the future.
You may feel superior to a colleague. You may be right. But whether you are or not, being arrogant is a surefire way to lose an argument.
Even if you rank higher on the totem pole than your colleague does, acting like you’re better than her isn’t going to impress her. Having an attitude that suggests “I’m right, because I’m a manger, and you’re an associate” is probably just going to anger her further. For the specific issue at hand, your rank probably doesn’t matter.
If you feel superior for other reasons, such as assuming you’re right and she’s wrong, you’re probably not going to get very far, either. As difficult as it may seem, entering an argument with the assumption that you’re on equal footing is probably the best way. That way, you can articulate your positon and really listen to what the other person is saying without automatically assuming that you’re right and she’s wrong.
Play devil’s advocate with yourself
You may think that there’s no earthly way your opponent could be right. If you enter an argument with that perspective, you probably won’t see or understand why she believes what she does. Rather than automatically assuming she’s a terrible person, try to understand why she believes what she believes or did what she did.
Going back to the initial example, try to put yourself into your colleague’s shoes. Why might she have let you take the blame for a mistake that wasn’t wholly your fault? Did you play a larger part in the error than she did, which could lead her to feel like more responsibility rests on your shoulders? Or did you direct the efforts, which might indicate that you should assume a larger part of the blame?
Try to play devil’s advocate with yourself. Most people don’t have malicious intentions, so it’s important to understand their motivations for their actions. Recognizing where people are coming from will help you have a more productive discussion. You’ll be able to understand their actions and explain why something rubbed you the wrong way while demonstrating compassion for the way they behaved.
Allow your “opponent” to speak, and listen when she does
In an argument, two or more people share their opinions. You may want to give a speech, but it’s not your place to do so. Your opponent has a perspective, too, and you need to appreciate that.
Formal debates allow opponents equal amounts of time to articulate their points of view. You should do the same. If you’ve been talking for a long a time, and the other person hasn’t been able to get a word in edgewise, then give her a turn. If you’re not letting her respond, then you’re demonstrating that you don’t really care about a resolution; you just want to talk.
Listen when she speaks. Really listen. Doing so will enable you to consider her perspective and analyze it in terms of your own behavior. She may have reasons for her behavior that haven't occurred to you. She might even propose a resolution that works for both of you.
Propose a viable solution
Be prepared with a resolution that could work for both of you. It’s likely that you will both need to compromise a little in order to resolve the conflict. Make sure that you will be satisfied with the result, though, before you propose the solution. Also consider how she will respond and whether or not she will be satisfied. If you don’t take her perspective into account, you make be at a standstill forever.
Let it go
Once you’ve reached an agreement, the argument has reached a conclusion. It's over. Don’t gossip about it with other colleagues or friends. That will only perpetuate hurt feelings. If you’ve reached an agreement about how to go forward, you should also agree to move on. Chance are, you've both made good arguments, stated your positions, and explained how you feel. Now is the time to be professional, rather than continuing to feel like your colleague has wronged you.
You don't have to be best friends with the other person going forward, but you do have to continue to work with her. That may mean taking the high road and keeping your opinions to yourself. That's okay; you're not going to like everyone, and not everyone's going to like you. Still, part of being a mature and professional person is understanding when a conflict has reached a conclusion and not dwelling on it.