Quarreling Co-workers: How to Bury the Hatchet

Dear Ms. Demeanor:

The head of another department and I have had a long-standing feud, the original cause of which is unimportant at this point, but suffice it to say that it's well known throughout the office that we're like oil and water. However, a very important project has come up, and we both need to work on it. My boss has stressed to me that everything has to go right with this -- a lot of people are watching us on it -- and that he expects me to find a way to work with the other woman, cordially and professionally. How do I bury the hatchet without looking like a wimp?



Dear Alison:

Getting our egos out of the way is never easy. Yet the person who extends the olive branch is on the high road and, in fact, usually the victor. Give yourself a good "talking-to" and get clear that making the first effort is by no means a sign of weakness. My dad, who is one tough, smart, dynamic man, always cautioned us to "not mistake gentleness for weakness." It was good advice.

So make a time to sit down privately with this person. Suggest coffee or lunch. You can come right out and say something like, "I'm sure it's not especially easy for either of us to be here. But we both share an assignment and it's in everybody's best interest -- especially ours -- to lay aside our differences and get the job done. So I just wanted to tell you that I'm very willing to put the past behind us and get some good work done together. How 'bout it?" Good luck.

The key here is not to get into "you did this and I did that." By making all your statements "I" statements, you diminish any chances for her to become defensive. I recommend rehearsing your lines, preferably into a tape recorder so you can replay them to hear your tone of voice. Should she insist on dragging up the past, stick to your statements and refuse to rehash anything. Emphasize that you are ready to put the past behind you and would really like to move forward.

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