Ask LH: How Can I Make My Office A Happier Place?

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Hi Lifehacker, I have recently started working for an organisation that is still finding its feet. Over the years, there have been various mistakes in communication. Unfortunately, those mistakes have resulted in a lot of resentment between members of the organisation. No one party is entirely in the wrong, but none is entirely right either, it seems.

Although I'm not part of the warring factions, this resentment makes my job difficult at times. I know it's not something that I can (or should) patch up on my own, but is there anything that I can do to help restore everybody's good will towards the organisation and each other? Thanks, Part-Time Eggshell Treader

Dear PTET,

Once upon a time, a company I worked for published two magazines that enjoyed a healthy rivalry -- until it festered and became unhealthy. It started off with a bit of unseemly gloating over who had the biggest numbers each month. Then the passive-aggressive emails began; usually about certain topics "belonging" to one magazine and not the other.

Eventually, things became so toxic that both editors were regularly shouting at each other in full view of their staff. One of the publications even tried to secretly poach a writer from its rival which strained relations even further. Needless to say, it didn't make for a great working environment.

Like you, I had nothing to do with the warring factions and opted to keep my head down. In hindsight, it may have been wiser to notify the higher-ups about what was going on.

When it comes to a hostile office culture, the buck usually stops with the manager. If you want things to improve, you really need to bring your concerns to the boss. Most managers are trained in conflict resolution and take workplace hostility seriously. However, until the issue is explicitly brought to their attention it remains easy for them to ignore.

At some point, a meeting will probably take place in a bid to resolve the matter. As the Harvard Business Review advises, it's important to keep emotions out of the discussion: when you open with negative emotions, you're virtually guaranteed to enter the conflict spiral:

Instead of threatening back or making your own claim to fairness, focus on interests — what you and your counterpart actually want from the situation and why. By getting at the underlying issues, you can remain rational and hopefully defuse your colleague’s anger.

You can find additional tips for repairing a damaged professional relationship here. This guide on what to do when you don't like a coworker also contains some relevant advice.

If any readers have their own proven strategies for dealing with a hostile workplace, let PTET know in the comments section below. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Most managers are trained in conflict resolution and take workplace hostility seriously.

    You are joking, aren't you? Most managers have very little people training, in my experience.

    Last edited 28/01/15 7:32 pm

      Yeah I was going to say that most of my bosses have been trained in very little, least of which would be conflict resolution...

        ...not to mention sometimes it's the manager that's the source of workplace hostility. Fun times.

    Is there anything you can do if management refuse to get involved?

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