The dictionary definition of the word “conflict” is as follows: “Serious disagreement, typically a protracted one.” “Workplace conflict” is a special kind of conflict as opposed to the kind of conflict we experience in our personal lives with family members, significant others, friends, and even neighbors. We are all guilty of indulging in hurt feelings over something or other because we didn’t get our way, or we couldn’t get someone to see things the way we do. It is part of being human.
Because we are all different, and therefore we experience the world differently, conflict is an inevitable fact of life. Whether you argue over where to go to dinner or what movie to see with your spouse, or you disagree with your boss about the newest business-related directive, you experience conflict on a regular basis. Hopefully, it is mostly conflict that is relatively easily resolved; but sometimes, the conflict you experience may be of a major kind. Marriages end because of ongoing conflicts that are never resolved. And if we are totally honest, we recognize that in some instances, even after the divorce papers are signed, individuals hold on to resentments and anger long after the ink has dried.
Workplace conflict can be a minor distraction or it can become so toxic that you dread going to work each day. You should pay attention if you are constantly at odds with co-workers, or you have to restrain yourself from yelling at your boss or walking out in a huff.
7 Questions To Ask When Dealing With Workplace Conflict
Given that workplace stress is a fact of life for most of us, what should you do about it? What is the “best way” to address it? IS there a “best way?” Consider the following questions when pondering your best course of action when trying to decide how to approach a workplace conflict.
1. What is your part in creating the conflict or in keeping the conflict going?
You may be an innocent bystander, but chances are you have played a part in creating the conflict, or perhaps you have kept the conflict going by dragging other unwitting co-workers into the conflict. Be aware of your own behavior. Dr. Phil is famous for saying, “You can be part of the problem or part of the solution.” You decide. If you find yourself embroiled in office drama on a regular basis, the first place to start looking is the mirror.
2. Do you need to be prepared to change your perspective?
Sometimes we just need to change our perception or our perspective on a problem in order to change the approach we take to solving it. Is the problem really as big an issue as you thought at first? Are there alternative ways of looking at the problem? Do you need to get more information before deciding that it is a problem in the first place? You may just need more information in order for you to feel better about whatever is going on.
3. Is the conflict related to work roles or is a personal element involved?
This question requires you to be perfectly—and perhaps brutally—honest with yourself. Are you dragging personal animosity into what should be a strictly business situation? Are you using personality differences to confuse workplace issues? Is your disagreement with your co-worker the result of philosophical or practical differences about the work, or is it because you don’t care for him or her on a personal level? You need to make sure that the conflict is what you think it is about before doing anything about it.
4. Have you tried looking at the situation from another point of view?
I know it is hard, but sometimes it really does help if you hop down off your own “high horse” and try to look at things through the eyes of the person with whom you are at odds. Is it possible that they have information that you don’t have? Is it possible that you jumped to conclusions or made assumptions (and you know what they say about people who make assumptions, don’t you?) that were wrong or made with incomplete information. Try to look at the situation from the point of view of the other person. It may help to change yours.
5. Are you wise about the battles you choose to fight?
I once had a mentor who wisely cautioned me to “pick your battles.” She would sometimes say with a sigh, “This is not a hill I want to die on.” When you are in a leadership role, this is particularly good advice I have found. You would do well to choose your battles wisely. Sometimes you just have to be willing to take a deep breath and let it go. That is the best course of action for you and your business.
6. Is the conflict deflecting your colleagues from focusing on the work to be done?
If the conflict is of the type that it will keep your colleagues from getting their work done, then it must be addressed. You need to call in the various players in the situation and address it head on. If the problem is keeping you and the other people with whom you work from getting the work done, you cannot let that continue. Toxic work environments evolve out of situations that are allowed to fester without intervention. I would offer the caution, however, that the situation needs to be handled in a face-to-face meeting. Issuing a written memo or a letter to everyone without offering them an opportunity to clear the air will only make matters worse.
7. Do you need a trusted mentor or coach with whom to discuss options?
Sometimes you just need someone with whom to talk. If you don’t have a mentor or a coach or a trusted advisor, I recommend you find one. You need someone who can look at the situation through objective eyes. Everyone needs someone with whom they can confide and with whom they have implicit trust. Your spouse may not be the best person, however. He or she is likely to take your side and help you stoke the fire of resentment and anger instead of helping you look at the situation from a different perspective. If you don’t have a trusted mentor or advisor within the company in whom you can confide, hire a coach or some other professional who will be able to give you advice based on the facts presented without all of the accompanying emotion.
Once you have considered these questions, you may be in a better position to address the workplace conflict that is currently bothering you. Take some comfort in knowing that conflict is a natural part of life. All of us experience conflict with the various people in our lives—both in our personal spheres and at work. It is part of being human. Consider how dull things might be if everyone saw things the same way and there was never any disagreement. Also consider that through conflict and honest and sincere conflict resolution, new ways of looking at your situation may even help your business grow and expand in new and unexpected ways.
Don’t shy away from conflict. At the same time, don’t become the cause of conflict yourself if you can help it. Being the office drama maker can be a killer on your professional brand. Instead, before letting yourself become embroiled in office conflict, consider the seven questions offered here, and see if you can’t become part of the solution instead of contributing further to the problem.
About the author
Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT is a Certified Life Strategies and Stress Management Coach and is an ICC at CareerHMO. Visit her coaching page here.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CareerHMO coach. You can learn more about coach posts here.
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