PR Briefing: The right way to confront a colleague

One of the things that ties my stomach in knots is when a friend or colleague does something that’s really bothersome. It’s always a dilemma – do I ignore the issue and just be bothered all the time, or do I find a way to discuss it and get a resolution?

There are always pros and cons to each. And using good judgment as to when – and when not – to confront the issue is the difference between whining and wisdom.

We’ve all lived with – or worked with – people with annoying habits. Perhaps your co-worker cracks his knuckles in staff meetings, sending shivers up your spine. Maybe you work with someone who constantly interrupts you midway through a sentence. If you complain, it will set a negative tone for all of your future interactions.

That said, it’s also important to know when you should say something about a particular situation. When you’ve reached your breaking point, it’s time to have a Courageous Conversation. But these conversations, while being difficult and anxiety-producing, should never take place when you’re upset. Take the time to think about what you want to say and how you can say it most effectively.

Perhaps your manager or colleague has said something to upset you, an employee has made a major mistake or your vendor has delivered sub-par work, and you have to talk to them about the situation. How do you communicate the “tough stuff”?

The trick is to find the right way to say something so you get what you want without hurting the other person’s feelings or creating an adversarial relationship.

First, a deep breath

I believe first in being forthright and not talking about my issue with a bunch of other people without addressing the issue with the person whom it involves. Talking about someone behind their back never gets you anywhere but in a lot of embarrassing trouble down the road.

Before barreling headstrong into a confrontational Courageous Conversation, think about how you’d like to be treated if the tables were turned, because somewhere, some day they certainly will be.

Be kind in your honesty. Demonstrate that you care about the person and genuinely hope to improve the situation. Be respectful, professional and most of all mindful of how you’d like this information communicated to you if you were receiving it.

You’ve heard the catchphrase: “Don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions.” It’s good advice. Don’t lay the burden of resolution solely on the other person. Find a way to contribute and bring possible solutions to the table.

For instance, maybe you’re stressed out because your boss demands that you work on reports every weekend, which is interfering with your family time. Ask if you could work from home a few evenings per week, after your kids go to bed, so you’re better able to meet both your work and family obligations.

If a colleague isn’t pulling his weight during team projects, ask him (nicely!) if something that you can help with is preventing him from living up to his full potential, or see if there’s another aspect of the project that he’d rather tackle. Perhaps once you broach the subject, you’ll be surprised at the reason he’s not as involved as you’d hoped. Maybe he thinks you’ve been a bossy control-freak and he’s been gathering the courage to have a Courageous Conversation about his issues with you!

There are certainly times when the severity of the situation warrants a response. If a work issue is gnawing at you and making you miserable, speak up! Clear the air, say what’s on your mind (nicely!) and discuss possible solutions. But there’s wisdom in knowing when the issue may be just your issue in that moment.

Before any Courageous Conversation, give it 24 hours and see if you’re still all worked up. Perhaps a deep breath and a little time spent away from the problem will make you feel better.

Don’t sweat the small stuff – the gum cracking co-worker who butts in on your conversations, the colleague that always calls you “Dude.” These annoyances are just part of life, and they just make you appreciate your non-gum-chewing colleagues who call you by your given name and are good listeners.

But if something is really upsetting you, it’s up to you to communicate your feelings. Just do so in a productive, kind way.

Laurie J. Storey-Manseau owns StoreyManseau LLC, a Concord-based full-service marketing firm. She can be reached at 603-229-0278 or