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Q&A: Set aside anger after workplace accusation

By Liz Reyer, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

QUESTION: I felt recently that my integrity was challenged at work. It’s a value that I hold central and that has never been questioned. I’m furious about it, and trying to figure out how to handle it.

ANSWER: Take a step back to understand the situation in-depth, and then determine the right actions to address it.

Anger can be useful in helping you to identify when a line has been crossed. However, once it has served this function, acting out of anger can lead to unintended problems. For that reason, I encourage you to start by recognizing your anger (and the validity of it if, in fact, your integrity was challenged), and then set it aside. Choose not to repeatedly recount the story — either to yourself or others — since it’ll reinforce your anger. You may need to consciously decide not to dwell on your feelings about the situation; instead, take the following steps with a more analytical tone.

Shift to the facts, outlining the events, setting aside possible intent by others and your own reactions. What exactly was said or done?

Now, consider alternative explanations. It’s very difficult to know someone’s intent, and somehow it seems to be human nature to assume the worst. How would you interpret the situation if you assumed that the person was neutral, or motivated by a desire to assist you? This may be hard to think through, but take the time to do so; it will open up many new ideas. Imagine how someone on the sidelines might see it — or ask someone you trust, but who will be candid, for their perspective. Do you still feel that your integrity is questioned, or are you seeing the situation in a different way?

Finally, determine what a successful resolution looks like to you. Peace of mind? An apology? Or is it a larger change if the situation can’t be resolved?

The key to resolution of this issue is conversation with the others involved. Set this up for a time when you’re feeling emotionally in control of yourself, rather than in the heat of the moment. Use “I” statements: “I felt that my integrity was challenged” rather than “You told people that I wasn’t being honest.” Your purpose is dialogue and exploring their motivation, similar to your thinking above regarding alternative explanations.

The likely explanation is that there is some sort of issue to be resolved, it just isn’t an integrity issue. This conversation then becomes an opportunity for problem-solving around a business problem, which will be of benefit for all involved.

Another possible outcome is that the person does indeed question your integrity. If, when hearing them out, you feel that it’s unfair, you’ll need to decide on your next steps. Is it someone with whom you can agree to disagree, or is it a fundamental enough challenge that you may want to make a change? While you won’t want to make a snap decision, it’s something to be weighing.

To protect your professional reputation, don’t overreact, but also take steps to prevent unfair attacks or misunderstandings.

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