Q: I don’t know how to resolve a conflict with my co-worker. “Kay” and I both handle marketing activities for a large medical practice. Marketing was part of my job for many years until Kay was hired about a year ago. The physicians told us to collaborate because she had professional marketing experience, while I was familiar with the practice.
Initially, Kay and I worked well together, but after a while she seemed irritated by my marketing questions. I decided to stop bothering her and continue doing what I had always done. We remained friendly, but focused on our own individual projects.
The problem began when the physicians scheduled a marketing meeting. When I mentioned that I planned to show a PowerPoint that I had created for one of the doctors, Kay got upset and told me this wasn’t appropriate. She said we should coordinate our presentations and accused me of trying to make her look stupid.
We managed to act normal during the meeting, but now we’re barely speaking. The doctors have clearly stated that we’re supposed to work together, so how can we fix this mess?
A: This is a classic case of role confusion, which is a frequent cause of workplace conflict. On the surface, these disagreements look like personality problems, but they actually result from vague and ambiguous work assignments. While employees are often blamed for the resulting tension, the real culprit is ineffective management.
After flying solo for years, you were suddenly told to collaborate with a co-worker, but no one bothered to differentiate your responsibilities. When these overlapping jobs created predictable friction, you avoided each other until circumstances forced you into a joint presentation. At that point, your different approaches suddenly collided.
Since doctors are typically not great managers, you and Kay should call a truce and agree to solve this problem on your own. Start by identifying all the marketing tasks, then determine the best way to share them. Given your complementary areas of expertise, you will be much more effective together than either of you would alone.
Q: A few days ago, I accidentally sent my boss an email meant for my husband. Because I was very frustrated, I called her an idiot and said some other unflattering things. She has not mentioned receiving this message. Should I apologize or just forget about it?
A: Since your boss is likely to read any communication from her staff, you can probably assume that she’s seen your email rant. And unless she has incredibly thick skin, odds are that she’s feeling hurt and offended. Expressing contrition may not erase the problem, but it might reduce the emotional damage.
For example: “Last week, I mistakenly sent you an email meant for my husband. Because I’d had a tough day, I was venting my frustrations and made some negative comments about you, which I truly regret. I hope you can disregard my stupid statements, because I really do value our working relationship.”
To avoid future email catastrophes, remember these precautions: Never insult anyone in writing, and always check the “to” line before hitting send.