Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

When Someone Is Upset With You

"I can't heaaaar you."

Most of us have ample experience with someone being frustrated, irritated or angry about something we’ve said, done or not said or not done. If you rarely have had anyone feel that way about you, you’re either a saint, very fortunate or completely oblivious to the world around you! (I know a few of you who seem to be able to combine all three!)

Work communication is difficult enough without getting the silent treatment or having someone purposely work against us because they are upset about something. Consider these tips for starting to get things back to normal–whatever that is!

1. Don’t let communications lapse. You don’t have to force conversation, just ensure that you don’t diminish the level of communication you would normally have. If possible, try to increase it somewhat, in a comfortable way.

2. If you don’t know the source of the anger or upset, ask. Listen without disagreeing or arguing. Often just the process of talking about it will help the other person know you want to move forward.

3 . Briefly apologize for the problem then put the focus back on work. Most people are anxious for bad feelings to be over. If you can give them a chance to express that they are upset–or even to deny they are, but at least you’re showing interest–that may be enough to turn the corner.

If you don’t feel you were wrong, don’t say you were. I have never supported the idea of falsely accepting blame. Sometimes people are upset, but they were the cause of the problem–or at least you were not the cause of it. If you want to smooth things out a bit you can say something neutral like, “I think we both just want to do our jobs and have a good place to work, so that’s what I’m going to focus on.” It’s hard to disagree with that or even to push for more conciliatory language.

4. Continue your normal communications with everyone, including with that person.You probably won’t need to mention the situation again, just keep going on with work as usual. If you find you are getting the cold shoulder from many people very often, take that as an indicator that you may need to adjust, change and improve in some areas. Not necessarily, but maybe.

5. Don’t talk too much about it to others. There is a temptation to try to win allies or to reinforce that you did nothing wrong. Your best approach is to simply continue being effective with others rather than dragging them into a quarrel. If you talk about it to others you can bet it will get back to the person involved and that will add to the problems. (Even your best friend will leak the conversation to someone.)

If you are generally on good terms with the person who is upset with you now, time will repair problems. If not, you can either work to build a better relationship in the future or limit your time with them if possible and pay close attention to your communications.  If you were surprised at the reaction you received from them–now you know.

6. Keep moving forward in positive ways. That will do the most to help you in your work, in your relationship with the upset person and with others. Let them see the person you want to be and the way you want to be viewed by others.

August 15th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 7 comments


  1. Excellent advice, as always! This is a situation that threatens many workplaces, yet the solution is deceptively simple and no more than is called for by common decency and common sense. Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by Jeff Adams | August 15, 2009

  2. This is starting to get scary. D. and I were talking about this subject when we checked the website. Thank you for not pushing for us to take the blame every time. That gets old after awhile, when it’s just to soothe a difficult person. #5 is true for sure. Thanks! Mike

    Comment by Mike | August 15, 2009

  3. Tina says: How nice to have comments right away! Thank you Mike and Jeff. Mike, if you and I are on the same mental wave length, it’s more than scary. 🙂

    Comment by TLR | August 15, 2009

  4. As a manager I often advise employees who are in conflict, and I think your advice is sound, especially for the occasional cold shoulder situation. I used to just tell employees to ignore minor conflict, but I think suggesting specific action is better. I’ll use this as part of my counseling in the future.

    Sincerely yours, G.T.

    Comment by G.T. | August 16, 2009

  5. Tina says: Thanks for the comment, G.T. I agree with you that giving employees suggestions for specific action is helpful. 1. If they are concerned enough to talk to a manager, they need more than a basic “ignore it” suggestion. 2. If they are just venting without any purpose except to complain or tell-on someone, getting real advice may discourage them from doing that excessively!

    Thanks again! T.

    Comment by TLR | August 16, 2009

  6. Is’n’t it funny or sad how something that sounds so logical isn’t done very often? I see it all the time where a small thing becomes a reason to stop talking to someone and it never gets better after that. I think your step #1 is crucial and #5 is next. Hope you’re enjoying the last part of summer. P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | August 19, 2009

  7. Tina says: Thanks, P.A.H. for the comment. I always look forward to hearing from you! When people stop talking and it’s obvious, that’s when a supervisor needs to be stepping in and requiring the courtesy and civility that is needed to keep the office from being uncomfortable for everyone. Almost everyone knows of offices where feuds have been going on for years!

    Re: Your last line: Summer? Is that here already? 🙂

    Comment by TLR | August 19, 2009

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