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By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

One of the most difficult and spirit-crushing things that can happen at work is that someone – a peer or a person you are supervising – goes over your head to your boss.

Typically, when you first hear of this, you are thrust into turmoil. A part of you wants to fight. A part of you feels like you already have been beaten up and tossed in an alley.

Trust flies right out the window.

What’s a person to do?

First and best advice: Don’t do anything that you feel like doing.

Instead, find a comfortable seat, ideally in your office, and take a breath. Then take another. Yes, this may be a calamity. But maybe it’s not. Maybe it will turn out to be an opportunity for rapid learning – rapid learning with a good outcome. Honest.

If you take things slow and deliberately, you may come out of this experience knowing a lot more about both your boss and /or your co-worker. You may even end up with better relationships with one or both.

Beyond going slowly and deliberately, my advice is to adopt a perspective of curiosity. You want to learn more. It’s not about “getting to the bottom of things” in the next 10 minutes. It’s about exploring exactly what happened and why.

Eventually, you will want to talk to your boss about the incident. But first you may want to talk to your co-worker. Even before that, you are going to want to calm down, collect yourself, and bury – or shelve – all your fears.

Whatever you do, do it with an open mind. Most likely you are dealing with nothing more than a blip on the radar that will be gone in short order – unless you make it worse.

Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at Harvard Business Review and the author of the HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict at Work, has more to say about what you should do and not do under the circumstances.

To probe deeper and see what Amy has to say, click here.

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