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How To Survive In An Open Office Without Hating Your Coworkers

Working without walls is bound to cause some problems and annoyances. Here’s how to defuse disagreements.

How To Survive In An Open Office Without Hating Your Coworkers
[Photo: Flickr user K2 Space]

Open floor plans and shared office space are supposed to  promote a sense of community and culture in your workplace, but they can also lead to tension and arguments. Many of us have encountered coworkers who don’t respect boundaries or listen to our requests. Instead of letting it fester or venting at the water cooler, hash out your differences, says Josselyne Herman-Saccio, communication expert for the training and development company Landmark.

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“Whenever people work together, upsets are inevitable,” she says. “When you understand where communication breaks down and how to heal disagreements as they happen, you create healthy relationships at work and protect productivity.”

Prevent Disagreements From Happening

Whenever possible, prevent problems before they start, says Vicki Salemi, career expert for the career site Monster. “Remind yourself you’re in an open workspace, so your colleagues shouldn’t need to hear your personal phone calls, nor do they want a whiff of your reheated lunch, which may not smell pleasant,” she says.

Talk through potential pitfalls before they happen. “You can say something along the lines of, ‘I have an hourlong conference call twice a week with a challenging client. Would it bother you to hear me on the phone because usually it’s on speaker, so I can simultaneously work on a spreadsheet, or do you prefer that I hop into a conference room?'” says Salemi. “The more proactive and transparent you are, the more your colleagues are likely to appreciate working with you in a shared space, and they will also be more likely to initiate conversations on their end.”

Spending time to get to know coworkers can also go a long way, adds Crystal Barnett, senior human resource specialist for the HR solutions provider Insperity. “Some employees prefer quiet time at the start of their day to answer important emails or plan their day,” she says. “Taking their preferences into consideration and giving them some space in the morning may help create a mutually beneficial work environment.”

If There Is A Disagreement, Address It

Unfortunately, disagreements are inevitable. “This is a normal occurrence that can be constructive if employees remain respectful and professional as they discuss opposing positions or opinions,” says Barnett. “Whenever possible, the affected employees should have a calm and friendly conversation to resolve their differences.”

Start by identifying why you’re upset. “What happened or didn’t happen?” asks Herman-Saccio. “Is it a mood or something specific and actionable?”

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Once you’re clear, determine if you didn’t clearly communicate your expectations, and decide if you need to address it with someone else. Approach your colleague, walk through the situation, discuss what happened, and what could have been handled differently, suggests Salemi.

“Most importantly, talk about how to handle it going forward,” she says. “It’s important to always remain professional and try to see things from their perspective, and show them your perspective, as well. Whether or not they’re able to see from your point of view is out of your control.”

Skip The Blame

When something goes wrong, avoid the temptation to assign blame. “Blame is there because we don’t want to be responsible,” says Herman-Saccio. “It’s easier to blame because you don’t have to do anything. Blame is a low-level, childlike function.”

Be responsible for your reaction and for communicating when your expectations are not met. Acknowledge any of your own actions that may have caused upset or disagreement, and ask how you can make things right, says Herman-Saccio.

“Try to use the word ‘you’ as little as possible,” she says.

Don’t Take Things Personally

Miscommunications also occur when you take things personally. “When you’re a kid, the world revolves around you,” says Herman-Saccio. “We never really grow out of it. If somebody takes five hours to respond to your email, for example, you might think they’re avoiding you when it probably has nothing to do with you.”

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Instead, practice not taking things personally. “Rather than living in your personal view and assuming things, find out by asking,” says Herman-Saccio. “You never know what someone else is going through internally, and their bad mood or state of upset is up to them to communicate.”

Give them the opportunity to share their perspective by asking these two questions: Is there something you need to say? Is there something that didn’t go as you had planned that is upsetting you? This gets dialogue started.

Don’t Let Feelings Fester

Communication has the potential of creating conflict, so we often keep to ourselves, but it’s vital that you don’t avoid talking about it, says Herman-Saccio. “In any relationship, avoiding communication is one of biggest routes of deterioration,” she says. “Resentment and frustration starts to color our view. But anything can be worked out in communication.”

Keep lines of communication open. Be upfront with others instead of keeping feelings in your head. “If you’re not getting the results you want, share your expectations so they’re out there,” says Herman-Saccio. “It’s better to be open now than upset later.”

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