Ask Liz: Colleague Conflict

Ask Liz: Colleague Conflict
Dear Liz, our line manager recently told us we have a new colleague joining soon, who will be working alongside me. After finding out the name of the new starter, I realise it is somebody I clashed with at an old place of work, which is one of the reasons why I chose to leave. I don’t want to make anything uncomfortable within the office when they start, but I know they will remember our history. How do I approach building a new relationship when the old one is so damaged?

Our industry is a small village and it is rather inevitable that paths will cross and recross again with past colleagues. As they say "be nice to the people on the way up because you never know who you will meet on the way down!"

You don't indicate what the previous issues were or how long ago this initial clash took place. But, clearly time has moved on since you last worked with this person and you have grown and developed. In the meantime you have established yourself in your current team and have established your own reputation there. Whatever the history is with this person, no one can take away your current standing, experience and relationships in the agency.

As we move from job to job, there is one constant that moves around with us - ourselves. Without doing too much self analysis, it may be an idea to reflect back on what that the clash was all about; what role did you play in it, what could you have done differently, how have you grown and changed since then and do the issues that mattered then, matter to you now? If it were to happen again, how might you play it this time? It takes two to tango and two to make a relationship, so each party bears some of the responsibility.

Often when we clash with people, it is the very thing that is within us that we see in others. In relation to this specific person, what is it about them that triggered a response in you and what can you learn from that? It's worth remembering that "if you can spot it, you have got it!" And perhaps there is something that you need to notice about yourself that this person is revealing to you. A hard one to face up to, but often true.

Thinking about the practical side of this person working alongside you, give some thought as to how you intend to manage this.

How might you approach their first few days in the agency?

As always you have options:-

  • Do you want to see how they react and respond to you?
  • Would you prefer to take the initiative by suggesting a coffee and chat to update them about what you've been up to, talk about the team you are both working in and the client?
  • Can you have a think about what their strengths are and how you might play that to an advantage going forward?
  • Or would you prefer to ignore the past, see this as a fresh start and not get too deep about it all?

Some folk like to "clear the air", others may prefer not to get wrapped up in the past and prefer to focus on the future.

It is what it is. You are where you are. I suggest you are not going to leave your job because of their arrival. And if you are thinking along those lines, question what that is really all about for you. What are the triggers, the emotions, the responses you are having and how might you turn these into a positive and overcome them?

There may always be people we don't get along with in life. The skill is learning how to surf the waves and not run away. Similar folk may well cross our paths in the future and you can't keep running forever.

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