How to Confront Office Lovebirds

With the arrival of Valentine's Day, we most likely will see an increase of romance in the air and, with that, displays of affection between office lovebirds. When those are not kept in bounds, they can make co-workers feel uncomfortable and hamper productivity.

How can employees speak up when an office romance negatively effects the workplace environment? According to research I conducted with my colleagues at VitalSmarts, many employees avoid confronting others about annoying behavior because they are worried they'll appear nosy. Specifically, fewer than one in four people confront their co-workers about poor behavior or performance. Instead, they work around them, complain to others, or avoid their co-worker altogether.

However, with the right set of skills, employees can candidly and respectfully talk to their co-workers about how their behavior is impacting the workplace.

Here are some tips from my book "Crucial Conversations":

  • Keep the scope of the problem small. Focus on the one issue you care about most. Don't air a list of gripes. Instead, work on one issue at a time.
  • Be careful in your use of terms. Describe the problem using tentative language, then describe what the couple is doing -- not what you're concluding.
  • Start the conversation by sharing your good intentions. The last thing you want to do is make the office lovebirds feel as though you are attacking or blaming them. Create safety by letting them know you have their best interests in mind.
  • Keep the discussion private. Talk to the couple about the issue privately and keep the matter private after your conversation. This will help the other person feel safe talking to you.
  • End by expressing concern and thanks. Perhaps the most important thing to remember as you approach a highly sensitive topic is that you care about the other person and want to help him or her address the issue without feeling humiliated in the process.

It's important to remember that the office lovebirds may not even be aware of how their behavior is impacting the workplace. Silence is often taken as approval -- so when a co-worker's bad behavior is hindering workplace performance, use the steps above to engage in a healthy, face-to-face conversation to create a better working environment.

Posted by Kerry Patterson on Feb 12, 2012