I’m sure you can all relate to this. You are sitting in a meeting when one of your co-workers makes a comment about another co-worker’s area. The comment isn’t exactly inappropriate, but it is laced with enough tone to set off everyone’s radar. The room seems to collectively hold their breath, waiting to see what the response will be. Will the second manager take the bait and respond with a tone-laden comment of their own, or will they take the high road and not even engage?
Too often managers let their emotions get the best of them in the moment and end up responding with a defensive comeback that escalates the situation. Even if they are correct in their response, they lose. And if both participants get temporarily caught up in the drama of one-upping the other person, the interaction can go on far too long until someone else steps in to break it up. In the end, it is very uncomfortable for those who have to witness the display and equally embarrassing for the managers involved.
Don’t let yourself get caught in this situation. If a co-worker is appropriately and professionally raising issues about you or your department during a meeting by all means, respond in kind. But if someone uses a public setting to take a cheap shot at you or to try to bait you into the verbal equivalent of a playground fistfight, DO NOT ENGAGE.
Suggest that the two of you discuss the issue privately after the meeting. If they persist, tell them again that this is not the appropriate forum for this discussion. Stick to your guns and don’t get dragged into the mud-slinging in an effort to save face. Ironically, it is the act of engaging in the combative exchange that does the most damage to your credibility and professional image.
Bottom line: no one wins points by initiating or engaging in an unprofessional conversation. At best you look defensive and at worst a bully. Put your ego on hold and always try to move emotionally charged conversations to a more private location. And remember to take the high road….it’s never crowded up there.
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