It’s been said that a man who stands on principle is bound to face personal attack. In my line of work, school administration, this has certainly been true as attacks can come literally from out of the blue. A longtime colleague can take you on, seemingly out of the blue with a laundry list of complaints. The next day, an attack might come from a parent whose child isn’t receiving the attention they deserve. Neither may be a real attack but perception is reality and when someone disagrees with us, we can’t help but to get worked up. The key is in choosing the appropriate response for each workplace moment of inevitable stress. Here are some keys when personal attack rises its ugly head in the workplace.
- Consider the source. Is your attacker a serial complainer? If so, disregard the comment as par for the course and move on. On the other hand, if the attack is coming from a reasonable person with a good intention, step back and listen to what they have to say. No one person has the total truth so it’s very possible that they have an angle from which you can benefit.
- Consider the source’s reasons. If your attacker is hurt or angry, keep in mind that they may be acting out of emotion. When this occurs, find a way to help them calm down and articulate the real reasons for their angst.
- Consider the bigger picture. Will your response to the personal attack affect the community in a positive way? Are you willing to cut a deal to save “now” without seeing how it will affect “later”? Keep in mind that each decision affects folks beyond just the two parties involved. As the head disciplinarian in a small New Jersey high school, I am reminded every day that any significant negotiation that I enter into now will probably return later, often in ways that aren’t helpful for the school as a whole. On the other hand, if I can stick to the policies of the school, everyone benefits both now and later.
- Cultivate strategies for stress reduction. If I asked you to list the top four or five ways that you minimize stress, would you be able to populate your list? Do you have a menu of options for when work gets crazy and personal attacks chip away at your self esteem? Whether it’s jogging, meditation or reading a good mystery novel, stress mediation is no longer a luxury that we can afford to bypass. My advice: work on your stress reduction techniques and practice them each week. When personal attack comes up, your ability to handle the stress will be further honed.
- Focus on the other areas of your life. Those that pour every moment of life into work are bound to do two things: make a difference at work for a short period of time and face burn out down the road. Rather than take on the latter, maximize the former by working on other areas of life. Grab a hobby, spend tons of time with your family and enjoy your home. That formula has worked for me when times get tough at work and they are bound to work for you as well.
Mike St. Pierre is the Dean of Students at Oratory Prep in Summit, NJ and blogs daily about productivity at thedailysaint.com