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A colleague of mine has gets on my nerves, half because of the way she does things, half because of the way I'm wired. Recently she brought up an issue which I think was just a waste of time and an artifact of a derailed process, and also she negleted an, IMHO, really important issue.

My response was bad. I responded with irritation and then snarkyness about other things that were also bothering me. This eventually drew in one other coworker and our manager and I'm really sorry they had to endure all this irritation between us going back and forth.

Edit: This happened in the late afternoon in an open-plan office when most of our co-workers had gone. We were 'arguing' (restating our positions in increasingly irritated voices) for about 10 mins and then the other 2 joined in for another 10 - 15 mins. In the end we reached an agreement on what needed to be done, with the help of the other two.

I would like to clear the air (maybe gauge if the air needs clearing first) between myself and said colleague and maybe also apologise to my other coworker and manager.

The way a handled it was counter-productive. I still feel i'm right though, so I want to apologise for my handling of the situation without taking back the content of what I said.

There is a vaguely related question on the inter personal skill forum, but my question is about a workplace setting.

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  • Does "she brought up an issue... I responded" mean in meeting, individual email, group email, hallway conversation, on phone...? You need to add specifics. Be mindful of both your own and other people's individual best/worst modes of communication style and personality. Does "This eventually drew in [coworker + manager]" mean they responded to an email thread, or came wondering about raised voices in cubicles, or what?
    – smci
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:14
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    Vaguely related is putting it mildly, you're essentially asking the same question and I'm not really sure that the workplace dynamic ultimately changes how to go about this. The top-voted answer there seems close to perfect.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:16
  • Still the premise of the question is sub-optimal: "How to apologise for how i said things but not the content?" might come across like a corporate version of "Sorry not sorry", even if you're sincere. What exactly did you say or do that needs apologizing for? Seems the underlying issue is "[she gets on my nerves; let's take it it's mutual] half because of the way she does things, half because of the way i'm wired". So give us more detail about the mutual clash in your work styles/communication/personalities, what are problems and possible solutions? Try to come up with constructive ideas
    – smci
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:31
  • As it stands currently, this question is about dealing with the symptom, not the root-cause. What specific changes would you like her to make to improve your working relationship? and v.v. what do expect she wants you to change?
    – smci
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:34
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    @smci Yes we should deal with both the symptom and the cause, but maybe not at the same time. I want to defuse the situation, if neccesarry, and then discuss our problems. But i'm worried if i try to do this in the same conversation, it will really be "Sorry but not sorry"
    – Ivana
    Sep 11, 2018 at 22:50

3 Answers 3

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Don't overthink it. Keep it short. Next time you see her just apologise for your tone.

Your choice on wording but along the lines of 'Sorry about xxx time, I was having a bad day and got a bit out of line. I didn't mean it how it sounded.'

Most adults would take this the right way.

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  • Without the " I didn't mean it" of course. And it is really hard to find a somewhat private place to apologise in an open-plan office. I have to remember to avoid offending guys until we get gender-neutral toilets.
    – Ivana
    Sep 28, 2018 at 21:10
  • gender neutral toilets sounds like an insane idea
    – Kilisi
    Sep 28, 2018 at 23:00
  • not really. I used to work for a small software development company, where i was the only woman. We had 2 unlabeled toilets, and i realised how inefficient it is to label toilets.
    – Ivana
    Oct 2, 2018 at 14:24
  • how would someone know it's a toilet instead of a cupboard or something? I can imagine skipping around like a schoolboy trying to hold it and passing two doors that I could have used if they had a label
    – Kilisi
    Oct 2, 2018 at 14:27
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    :-D Office LOL. Also, who said no locks? Of course we had locks.
    – Ivana
    Oct 2, 2018 at 14:49
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I would approach them, maybe make casual conversation. If they seem like they're upset, apologize for the way you reacted to the situation.

I would also keep in mind, for whatever reason, your colleague thought it was important to bring up that issue and though you believe it was a "waste of time", they didn't. In these moments you should listen then politely and concisely disagree and/or make your point.

The moment you begin to be "snarky" is the moment your colleague stops listening to the point that you're trying to make.

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It would be best for you to start with an apology and learn from this experience. If you have a bad relationship with a collegue, do not bring it to the workplace comment on the person's ideas not the person that way you will have more sucess in the workplace.

thanks, Yun Fei Chen

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  • How can this not be brought to the workplace? It happened at work, it was about work and was sorted at work.
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 15, 2020 at 4:55

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