In the previous post, we met Tracy who is having a hard time getting along with Sasha. As Tracy complained to her partner, “how am I supposed to work on a charity event with someone who has nothing to say and has such a superior attitude?”
The response today is by Sandra Lopez, a licensed clinical social worker and consultant.
Tracy’s scenario is just so typical of what any one of us might encounter. Clearly as she shares her feelings with her partner, we can see that Tracy has become frustrated, stressed, and is even experiencing some sense of helplessness in knowing how to make the situation better. Like many of us in these kinds of predicaments, she has formed negative assumptions about her co-worker. Given the current status of her relationship with Sasha, she raises a good question in wondering how she will survive the stress of working on this charity event.
How do we work through these challenging interpersonal conflicts when they happen? Tracy can relieve a great deal of her stress in this working relationship by consciously using herself to more effectively manage the situation.
I want Tracy to know that there is hope for improving her relationship with Sasha. I want to first invite her to sit, talk, and share what she’s feeling without any judgment. It can be helpful to simply talk things out with someone you trust and who will listen attentively. Perhaps in Tracy’s exploration of thoughts and feelings, she might hit upon something that gives her insight into these circumstances. Once Tracy has had this opportunity, I want to suggest she turn up the volume on her self-awareness — she obviously is having a pretty serious reaction to Sasha.
Why is this, Tracy? She has allowed Sasha’s behavior to influence how she acts and this can potentially undermine Tracy being herself.
She could benefit from identifying her emotions and understanding how her actions and words are being influenced by her reactions to Sasha. In our conversation with Tracy we can help her to see where things went wrong and even support her in getting the emotional attachments out of the way. It might be helpful for Tracy to talk about when did this first start and when did she first notice that she was having a reaction to Sasha. This step is all about helping Tracy to stop and to take stock in what is happening in these interactions with Sasha. Having had similar experiences myself, I know that once we go into a place of being triggered by these emotions, it is so easy to lose sight of the real issues.
I want Tracy to see that she is making assumptions about Sasha that may be inaccurate. She thinks Sasha has a superior attitude and that she believes she is better because she is on the executive team. Do we know this to be true? Or, is this more about Tracy’s perception of Sasha?
Tracy also is beginning to participate in a detrimental behavior by aligning with another employee in making disparaging remarks about Sasha. Comments about Sasha having 9 cats and no husband are demeaning and can hurt the relationship building process.
I want Tracy to put herself into Sasha’s shoes. What is it like to be the VP’s Top assistant at the corporation? What about Sasha’s part in the charity event? She seems invested in the event as she volunteered to help. Could there be other reasons why she is not engaging with Tracy? Could she be shy or introverted? Could she be intimidated by Tracy’s outgoing personality? Does she feel pressure to project a serious demeanor at work because she fears she might lose her job?
We really don’t know, do we? If we make an effort to understand the other person, it can prevent us from making those inaccurate assumptions, and ultimately free us from some of the frustration and stress.
Two last points I want Tracy to consider. First, it is far more productive for her to focus on identifying her part in the poor interactions with Sasha as opposed to blaming Sasha for everything and viewing herself (Tracy) as the victim. It takes sincere reflections to realize that when we react we often aren’t thinking clearly in that moment—we are all about “feeling” and “reacting”.
Although many of us have been raised in having the good guy/bad-guy mentality, we don’t have to view it this way. It takes courage to be willing to look at one’s contributions into a nasty situation. If we can remind ourselves that it takes two to “dance” in a relationship, we can move towards some beginning sense of understanding of the other person.
So when we put ourselves into Sasha’s shoes, we might wonder what is it like for her to be the VP’s top assistant at XYZ Corporation. How does she perceive her role in the planning of the charity event? Is her office behavior more about being shy and introverted? Does she have difficulty in creating work friendships?
All of these questions at least invite Tracy to consider that Sasha may have certain reasons for her behavior. It is obvious that Sasha must have strengths as she is the top assistant. Hopefully such an exploration will allow Tracy to let go of some of her reactions towards Sasha and to begin to see other possibilities.
Through self-awareness, thoughtful exploration, stretching to understand Sasha’s perspective and exploring her contributions, Tracy will have a good jump start for the road back to rebuilding the relationship with Sasha. With a commitment to this process, I am hopeful that Tracy will be able to effectively work with Sasha on the upcoming charity event — and who knows? — these two may even develop a far better working relationship.
Bio: Sandra A. Lopez is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a clinical and consulting practice in the Houston area. She also serves as Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.
Reference: “Conscious Use of Self”, Reframing Change, Chapter 6.
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