Co-existing with your office mate can be challenging.  Minor annoyances, such as humming or whistling, can escalate when you perceive that your co-worker isn’t carrying his/her own weight.  And what if you’re angry with your business partner, your assistant, or your boss?  How we treat those relationships can be tricky, particularly when we spend more time at work than anywhere else.

I think it’s safe to say we handle conflict with our business colleagues or clients in a much different way than we handle it at home.  More respectfully maybe?  More passively-aggressive?  Do we choose our behavior based on the seriousness of the “crime” committed?  If your colleague ate your yogurt out of the office refrigerator, do you have a conversation about it or let it go?  Alternately, if your assistant forgot to make the payroll tax deposit on time and you’re stuck with a hefty penalty, are you justified in being mad?  And what about a client who constantly cancels appointments at the last minute, thereby disrespecting your time?

My personal solution to any sort of work-related conflict is to assign a value to the behavior, sort of like the degree of difficulty in an Olympic high-dive.  On my scale, yogurt stealing is a level one offense, and embezzlement gets a ten.  Figuring out the “degree of difficulty” should take you some thought.  Is this incident going to be of significance next week?  What about next month?  Or next year?

Now that you’ve assigned the value, it’s time to determine how you want to handle it.  If your anger level is a one through five, you might want to stop wasting mental disk space on it.  But if your anger level is a seven or greater, you’ll probably feel better if you tackle it directly, sooner rather than later.  First, I’d suggest that you invite the co-worker to have a private conversation with you.  You can issue the invitation casually, in any way that’s comfortable for you.  Text or email is perfectly okay, and simply stated:  “I’d like a few minutes of your time tomorrow morning for a private conversation.  Will 8:30 work for you?”  Pick a neutral place, and make sure it’s private.  Start by briefly stating your concern, and make it about you, not your co-worker.  It’s of zero benefit if she’s busy figuring out how to defend herself instead of listening to you.  And make sure you point out some common ground.  Try something like this:  “I have been less productive than usual lately, and I’m concerned that it’s because I’m listening to your private phone conversations with your boyfriend.  I know we’re both committed to this company, and I want to make sure your personal situation isn’t interfering with what we’re both accomplishing at the office.”

Then stop talking and listen to her response with an open mind.

Remember that, since you initiated the talk, it’s your responsibility to guide the conversation toward a solution.  And I’m sure you’ll do it brilliantly!