A little compassion can go a long way. Imagine for a moment that one of your co-workers comes into the office late and in a bad mood. You have been waiting for them because you need their input to finish writing a proposal for a customer. You walk into their office and they snap at you, “What do YOU want?”
What do you do?
1) Snap back at them, “I want the proposal information that you owed me thirty minutes ago and I want it right now!” You do this because they are late, they do owe you the information and their bad mood is not YOUR problem. If they can dish it out, so can you. You need them to know that you are not their door mat.
2) Wait a moment, remember that they have been having a tough time lately and then let them know that you are here to collect their information for the customer proposal that is due this morning. You don’t yell or respond in a hostile manner. You speak to them in calm even tones. You come from a place of trying to put yourself in their shoes, remembering that they don’t want to be unhappy and neither do you.
Answer number one above is not my favorite answer, but it is an answer. It is also the easy answer. When someone speaks to us using a harsh tone it is easy to respond in kind. It is certainly easier to not care about your co-worker and their moods and problems and only care about the work. But the easy answer can cause conflict with your co-worker and not the productive kind of conflict. I am talking about the bad feelings, mad at each other kind of conflict that can take root and grow.
Is your co-worker responsible for his or her own behavior? Of course! But on the days when their behavior is less than admirable you are still responsible for your behavior. And if you are able to look at your co-worker with some compassion and temper your response from a place of compassion, the result will be a stronger working relationship for both of you.
Your co-worker may never consciously notice that you were compassionate and they may never thank you for understanding. Truthfully, acting with compassion is not about earning points, it is about making a choice to treat others as you believe they wish to be treated. It does not mean that you are their door mat; it means you are able to rise above the mood of the moment and face this conflict peacefully.
A little compassion can go a long way to easing or preventing unproductive conflict.