For more than 18 months, the majority of people have been working from home – with just partners, housemates and pets for company.
But now we’re returning to the office, after a considerable break, all sorts of problems are resurfacing again.
Suddenly, we’re coming face-to-face with old co-workers and brand new people who have joined during the pandemic. And after being in control of our own WFH environment for a long period, it’s a significant shock to our systems.
Colleagues can suddenly become all the more irritating – whether it’s their daily habits, office chat or professional conduct in meetings.
These frustrations can not only impact our work – but our health, too.
Career coach Lucy Freeman tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Being around an irritant, or an inflammatory person, can actually have a detrimental effect on us physically.
‘Our heart rate rises, we are distracted, our muscles tense and our breathing becomes shallow.
‘We also enter a state called hypervigilance where the expectation that we are about to be annoyed consumes us, even before the irritant has actually committed any transgression.’
So how do we cope with this inescapable issue, now office life is resuming?
Experts share a few things to keep in mind.
Try to understand the clash
Behavioural psychologist Stephanie Davies says: ‘First, recognise that your aversion to someone might just be a clash of ideas, personality or values – rather than because they are unpleasant.’
Once you get to the crux of the issue, it might help you understand why you see them in this way.
She adds: ‘A personality clash between two people doesn’t mean either of you are bad. Show some understanding and tolerance.’
Control your emotions
It’s crucial to remember that you’re in a work environment, so behaviour needs to reflect this.
Stephanie says: ‘If you are in a meeting and someone annoys you, check yourself, dial down your anger. Don’t react to the emotions you are feeling. Take a breath and distinguish between feeling, thinking and acting.’
Pick your battles
While in normal life you can avoid people you don’t get on with, at work this is a different story.
Stephanie adds: ‘You don’t always have to bend over backwards to accommodate others and you should stick up for what you believe in, but know what battles you need to fight and which ones you can win.
‘You need a healthy degree of empathy and diplomacy to get on in the office environment. Remember that, sometimes, honesty is not the best policy.’
Try to laugh about it
Sometimes the best way to get past a frustrating situation is to try and find the funny side.
‘Keep your sense of humour. It can be your best friend in times of stress,’ adds Stephanie.
‘However, there is a very important caveat. Make sure you use humour appropriately. Don’t be the clown in important meetings, don’t be David Brent and don’t offend people. And remember, no one likes a smart arse.’
Be aware of what you can control
The sad reality is that certain people are going to irritate you and, unfortunately, they are not going to change.
Ultimately, the only thing you can control is how you react.
So rather than being caught out by this, it can be good to try and play forward a future scenario in your head.
Lucy Freeman adds: ‘What will this person do? So much of your time is spent thinking about this person you’ll find it quite easy to envisage how they are going to react.
‘There’s almost a satisfaction in being proved right – especially if they actually use the words you have predicted they will.
‘This puts you back in control of the situation and helps to relieve the stress a little.’
Take a moment to pause
As with any frustrating situation, it can often be good to step away for a moment.
Psychotherapist and executive coach Martin Boroson says: ‘When you’re discussing contentious issues with colleagues, strong emotions are rarely far away.
‘You might be so emotional that you can’t hear what the other is saying. Or you might feel so defensive that you are consumed with crafting your comeback. But it’s worth remembering that there is enormous power in pausing – even for a moment.
‘Pausing for a moment to still your mind gives you the opportunity to neutralise the tension and negative emotions at play, and then prepare a more appropriate response.’
You may not be able to calm down completely, but it could help a little.
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