In your question you alluded to the fact that perhaps you’d done something to “deserve this”. It sounds like you’re at a loss as to what, if anything, you might have done to provoke such anger. Dr Kiaos said it was healthy “to reflect upon one’s potential failure in the situation”.
If, as you said, your ‘inciting’ comment was innocuous, Dr Kiaos says it could be that your colleague was reacting to something that happened to them or between you in the past.
“Could it be that the tea-room encounter was interpreted, albeit badly, as an opportunity to express a previously held opinion about the reader? There is much research to support the notion that past traumas often find channels for expression in everyday life until they are somewhat transcended.
“People can be triggered for a whole host of reasons, from someone’s voice to the content of a conversation, and everything in between.”
Dr Kiaos said the second perspective could be categorised as sociological.
“Employees are constantly evaluating one another in relation to conforming to a workplace’s social reality. In healthy organisational cultures, with healthy rules for language and behaviour, these sorts of situations are unlikely to eventuate.
“However, in organisational cultures that are poorly functioning, the dramaturgical or performative nature of an exchange like this could be the culprit. That is, could the public space of a tea-room be used to build an alliance in one’s favour by provoking an attack? Could it be a way of finding out what sort of support there is for either party?”
In thinking about this point of view, Dr Kiaos said you might want to consider who was present besides you two, whether authority figures were privy to the exchange, and what happened after.
What should you do now or – goodness forbid – if such a thing happens again? Dr Kiaos said it’s worth keeping in mind that there’s a good chance this person regrets their behaviour.
“I recommend remaining curious, staying very present and actively engaging in a process of broad and narrow interpretation, perhaps even oscillating between the two – from the sociological to the psychological and vice versa.
“Coming from a place of curiosity is a worthwhile pursuit. Ask thoughtful questions and, as hard as it might seem at the time, try to withhold from reciprocating an attack. If the attack occurred because of being triggered, eventually that person will likely reflect on their behaviour, apologise, and perhaps might even thank them for expressing some interest in their opinion.”
There is, Dr Kiaos said, “always something to be learned by taking various perspectives”.
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