conflict at work

Last week, I got to a bit of a conflict with one of my staff. Well, I can’t say that this is the first time I’ve had a conflict at work (which was always quickly resolved!), but it is my first time with my own staff.

Everyone has their days, and that day was mine. I was just “talked at” by my superior, so mood in the morning wasn’t exactly sweet. Past few days have been rough, too – my staff was becoming more undisciplined and slacking. I guess all the dissatisfaction was rolled up into a big ball of something that day.

I was talking to one of my staff about some paperwork that I needed them to do for me when my other staff, rudely, interrupted to say something about an online application I asked them to do few days ago.

Now, sadly to admit, people I work with (not just my staff) have this bad habit of interrupting others, who are, obviously, in another conversation. I think it’s more of a cultural trait or social behaviour than an attitude…could be, I don’t know.

So, anyway, annoyed as I was, I gave one-answer sentences, which, in turn, annoyed them because I wasn’t giving my full-attention. I resumed my conversation with my staff, and proceeded to doing my work. The interrupting staff turned to me, again, and asked a question that increased my annoyance.

Few days ago, I’ve already handed down the assignment, and explained. I’ve even explained that they should liaise with this person from another department about it. So, wouldn’t you have thought that, yes, I know what to do now? I cannot afford to babysit my adult staff anymore! Apparently, my interrupting staff didn’t get that.

This was where I failed as a middle manager. I turned to sarcasm.

“So, what do I do with this now?” the interrupting staff asked, waving their index finger towards the computer screen, their eyebrows arched.

I smiled, and gave a rather stupid giggle, “Oh, nothing, you just stare at it”.

Wrong move, damn it.

I’ve worked with this staff for over a year now, and I kind of know how they work. They can also be quite emotional and defensive (somewhat like me), and aggressive (unlike me). So, my approach towards them was to joke with them, become friends, etc. I guess my approach backfired, because that in turn made them to treat me with less respect as an authority.

Needless to say, they went berserk.

“Oh, hell, stare at it, ey? I can definitely stare at it! If you’re gonna act like you’re pissed off, I’m well pissed off, too!” they raised their voice, and I was scared and angry at the same time.

I wanted to go up to them, and asked what their problem was to shout like that in the office. I wanted to say, if they had a problem with me, say it to me properly. I also wanted to say, if you give a stupid question, you’ll get a stupid answer. If you actually listened to me that day, you wouldn’t be asking me this question. If you actually have some sort of common sense, you freaking fill in this application form with our company details. What is so hard about that? Seriously!

But I kept quiet, and ignored their outburst. Throughout that day, we didn’t speak to each other at all. First few hours, I was still a little upset, and kept thinking how I probably needed to reprimand them, immediately. But I thought I’d just let it die off for a bit. Then, I found out that they had to take leave the next day because their father had to undergo emergency medical treatment. Yes, yes. Maybe that’s really why they were more in a sour mood than I was that day. I rolled my eyes and sighed at my stupidity and ego and untamed sarcasm (when provoked).

My staff rely on me. They look up to me. My manager relies on me to take care of them. To guide them. To help them. To lead them. And there I was, being a bitch. I say that they forgot my authority…I forgot, too.

My staff aren’t exactly the smartest, but they are willing to work hard. I’ve worked with them for a year at a similar level, and then another year with me as their supervisor. They’re a bit rowdy, but with the right push, they do the job right. I need to make them believe in their purpose in this place. Need them to believe in the work they do. I’ve tried the responsibility approach i.e. give them more tasks, but that just made them more dependent on me. I’ve tried the friendly approach and that backfired! I’ve been reading a lot of management online, and I’ve decided to do an impromptu evaluation of each staff, and call it a year-end evaluation.

Next working day arrived, and I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I knew that they wouldn’t still speak to me, immediately. Inside, I was hoping that they were a professional, and indeed they were when they did still interact with me, work-wise, even if it was just that “here you go” as they passed me some documents. But at the end of the day, they said goodbye as they left the office, and I thought, “Ahh, progress.”

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