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Problem with a Co-Worker? Stop, Look, and Listen

It happened again. I walk into a shared art space and it was a total disaster. Stuff everywhere. Papers all over the table. Topless markers and used paint brushes just laying around drying out. Wadded up mistakes scattered around the outside of the wastebasket.  My first response, anger. I’m so angry I want to run over to my colleague and say something.   

But should I?  Some of us spend more awake time with our co-workers than we do with our families, so treating one another well provides a much happier and calmer existence. This requires communicating our upsets to ensure things are better in the future but doing so in a collegial, respectful manner.   

Years ago, I learned a technique for conflict resolution which I boiled down to our crossing-the-street rules: STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN.

Stop – Unless anyone is in immediate danger, take ten minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) to calm down. Approaching someone when you are emotional can be disastrous. Take time to plan the best approach and timing. Figure out when the person might be most receptive.

Look – Look within yourself. Remember that you are all at work, trying to do the best job possible. Getting through the day may be the only thing one can accomplish on some days. We don’t know everything people are going through outside of school. Gather up your empathy and give your colleague the benefit of the doubt. Start with the idea that they meant no harm.

Listen- Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand before seeking to be understood”.  Start with a well-being check. “Are you okay?” Wait for the answer. If the answer is “yes”, say something like, “I noticed that the art room wasn’t cleaned up and just wanted to make sure that you didn’t need help with anything.”

Listen to the answer.  If there is a valid reason for this, you have saved both of you from a negative encounter. If the reaction is unkind, express that it’s helpful for you to walk into a clean space or whatever fits the current situation.

Speak about what you need, not what the other person has done wrong. If there is a lack of respect toward you, speak to a supervisor. It is not your responsibility to reprimand a colleague.  Some resolutions need to involve others to ensure a successful outcome.

Inclusive work environments are most fulfilling when there is an appreciation and understanding that we all have strengths and weaknesses.  Not everyone has to be friends at school, but we do need to be respectful and caring of one another.  Next time you are in an aggravating situation, STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN!    

Jennie Rubin
Director of Early Childhood Education
Temple B’nai Or
Morristown, NJ