Rule 4: It's Best In The Long Run To Make Your Life a Grudge-Free Zone
Several years after I became president of Hearst Magazines, a Hearst executive walked into my office with a complaint.
"Cathie," she said, "I just heard there's a meeting this afternoon that I should be in on, and nobody told me about it. I don't know why I'm being shut out, but I should definitely have been included."
"So go to the meeting," I told her. "Assume it was an oversight, and go take your rightful place." She looked surprised, but later in the day she did just that. And as it turned out, she hadn't been intentionally excluded at all—it was an honest mistake. But she'd made a mistake of her own, in forgetting this important rule: Don't personalize things that aren't personal.
Rule 5: Be Generous With Praise—And Careful With Criticism
Offices are kind of like families—you're thrust into close relationships with people you might normally have nothing to do with. And just as with families, this provides all kinds of opportunities for conflict, whether real or imagined.
Yet in my experience, I've found there's actually less real personality conflict than people imagine. All too often, someone takes a stray comment or missed connection as a personal affront, when it wasn't intended that way. And unfortunately, once a degree of friction or mistrust has been established, it often grows into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and problems really do start to develop.
How do you respond when a group of people in the office go out for lunch—and you're not invited? Or when someone interrupts you at a meeting to shoot down your idea? Or when a colleague responds to your e-mail with a sharp critique, cc-ing others in your department?
For many people, the natural response in such situations is to feel not only professionally affronted but personally slighted. Sometimes we're so attached to our own ideas that we can't imagine people having genuine objections to them; we assume it must be a personality thing. And in certain cases it is, of course—but here's a little secret. No matter whether a conflict represents a legitimate criticism, a personality clash, or something in between, you should always treat it as if there's no personal component at all.
Making the choice to view conflict in the office as professional, rather than personal, accomplishes two key things. First, it ensures that you don't accidentally overreact and see a personal component where there is none. Second, it effectively defuses any personality conflict that might really exist. Think of it this way: If someone in the office tries to provoke you personally, what they're really doing is trying to establish dominance or control over you. By choosing not to respond on that level, you deny them that control. There's very little upside to engaging with a colleague in a personal war. It's best in the long run to make your life a grudge-free zone.
Rule 6: Know The Rules So You Know Which Ones To Break
One afternoon at New York magazine, whose publisher I was in the early 1980s, I found myself irritated with the promotions manager. Something she'd done—I don't even remember what it was—set me off, and I went tearing into her office.
I stood in front of her desk, snapping at her, before realizing there was someone else in the office with us, sitting behind me on the couch. I turned to find her husband sitting there, a look of shock on his face. And all of a sudden, I felt incredibly embarrassed. I must have looked like a lunatic, racing in and using that tone with her—something I'd never have done had I known he was there. I took a deep breath, apologized, and walked out of the office.
We Hear You!