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Don’t let wounds fester, and don’t let grievances grow.  If you suspect someone is holding a grudge, but you’re not certain, see what you can find out.  If you find evidence that someone is harboring a grudge, do what you can to clear the air. The best place to do that is privately.


Does someone at work have a grudge against you?

You know the old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie?  It doesn’t apply to people with grudges, who may actually become more difficult from stewing in their angry juices about whatever sleight or injury they’ve pinned on you.

Not every problem with people can be resolved.  Some people are more married to their grudge (it gives them a reason to live) than they are to resolving it.  People are prickly, they take offense and lock onto it, and once they’ve made up their mind about you and fit you into their pre-existing conditioning, you may need to just let it go and let them carry it.  But most the time, grudges and grievances can be worked out, but first you have to air them out so you can work them out.

One possible sign of a grudge or grievance is if the person suddenly stops talking to you.  A stronger signal is if they start talking about you behind your back. And if they start making strange comments about you to your face, putting you down, laughing at you, and then waving it off like it’s just a joke, there’s a good chance that they are harboring bad feelings about you, and trying to discharge them through ‘funny’ comments.

When is the best time to deal with a possible grudge or grievance?  Right away.  Don’t let wounds fester, and don’t let grievances grow.  When you first suspect that someone has something going on with you, that’s the time to bring that which is hidden to the surface, where you can acknowledge and deal with it.

If you suspect someone is holding a grudge, but you’re not certain, see what you can find out.  If you find evidence that someone is harboring a grudge, do what you can to clear the air. The best place to do that is privately.  Why?  To avoid creating any embarrassing moments and memories in the minds of witnesses.

This could be a difficult conversation, so steel yourself for it.  To begin, you can say, “I’m concerned that you and I have something going on between us that could interfere with our working together.”  This depersonalizes the problem, and places it between you rather than on them. Then repeat back to them the negative statements they have made and ask them what they were really trying to say. ”Last Tuesday at the meeting with the rest of our team and the project manager, you said (fill in their potentially hostile comment).  I don’t get it. I’m wondering, when you said that, what was going on?  What were you really trying to say?”

Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it.  Best to look innocent and curious, rather than hostile yourself.  Do this really well, and the person won’t realize what’s going on.  With no reactive or defensive behavior on your part, they are likely to volunteer the information you ask for before they it occurs to them to put up their shields.

However, if the person denies having any hidden agenda, you can always try guessing.  Random guesses might get a response, and funny guesses might get a response, but the best response will be to your best guess.  Try to put yourself in their shoes. Mentally review the course of events as you understand them. Once you’ve come up with an idea, suggest it to them and watch for a reaction. If you think of several possibilities, rattle them off. Preface your guesses by telling them that “I don’t know what was going on for you” or “I realize that I am just guessing, but” and then fill in your guess.  Watch the reaction.  If they deny it, try again.  Once you’ve guessed correctly, you should at least see a flinch, at which point you can ask about it, and start to fill in the details.  Once you’ve popped the cork on a bottle of grievance, the rest tends to come bubbling out.

Listen Carefully

Once you bring the grudge to the surface, it is essential that you listen carefully to everything the person has to say, all of it, without any pressure or demand to wrap it up.  You don’t have to agree, and you really shouldn’t disagree.  You don’t have to take ownership over it at all, so don’t defend, explain, justify, or make excuses. Instead, backtrack, clarify, and help them to express the grievance fully, with no resistance on your part, doing your best to see events as they see them. Once you fully understand the nature of the grievance, let them know that you understand, and express appreciation for their willingness to talk to you about it.

Now, what if you find out that you were responsible in some way for it?  What if you screwed up, made a mistake, insulted them, denied them their due, got in their way at an important moment, or failed to be there for them when they needed you?

If they have just cause, don’t just notice it, own up to it. This will get back some of the respect that was lost. And if you have information that you think would help them make sense of the situation, this is the point to let them know. “May I tell you how this happened?” If they say no, simply reply “Fair enough.”

Leave a grudge alone, you just might regret it later, when out of nowhere someone comes after you with a vengeance at the most inopportune time.  Better to get it out in the open and deal with it as quickly and effectively as possible!  That way, you can keep your relationships in real time instead of losing time, and go forward instead of carrying over events that have passed.

About the author

Rick Kirschner

Rick Kirschner

Dr. Rick Kirschner has helped millions improve their communication skills and have better relationships…

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