Congratulations! You’ve got the position you wanted in your firm or company of choice. Now it’s time to begin work.
After a few months of working, everything seems to be moving along fine. You have a good relationship with your boss and management is very vocal about supporting you as an up-and-comer. There’s only one problem—without realizing it, one of your team members seems to have morphed from nice to nasty, creating a situation that plays you against another one of your co-workers.
You seem to remember someone, at some time, saying something about how to deal with conflict in the workplace, but let’s face facts: You can’t really be trained on how to deal with conflict no matter how many seminars you go to or the number of books you read. At some point, you’ll either burst from too much frustrated combustion, or you’ll simply give in and play the nasty person’s game.
What’s wrong with this scenario? According to Tamera Loerzel, one of the speakers at the August 2012 E.D.G.E. Conference, conflict occurs because of differing views between two or more people.
“If we all thought or acted the same, came from similar backgrounds and experiences, and had similar personalities, we wouldn’t have conflict because we’d all be alike,” says Loerzel, a partner with ConvergenceCoaching LLC. “Not only would that be boring, but we would be confined to a certain size box with limitations to our opportunities and possibilities. With our diverse backgrounds, experience, knowledge, opinions, and personalities, we are able to generate unlimited ideas and solutions—if we can figure out how to communicate so that all ideas are heard and respected.”
In her presentation, Loerzel presented four types of personalities in the workplace: Avoider, Accommodator, Confronter, and Compromiser. Although most of us may be one or a combination of any of these four personalities, she also presented a fifth option—the one we want to strive to be: the Collaborator, defined as someone who participates or assists in a joint effort to accomplish an end.
“When we collaborate, we are working toward a common good or result, and when possible, to also meet each individual’s self-interest,” she says. “This requires identifying what our own and our conflict partner’s self-interest is—which we don’t often do, especially in business.”
The key is getting to the “root cause” of the conflict; if you do not do that, the conflict will keep occurring again and again.
“When you collaborate, you are working to get to the root cause of the situation, giving up that your view and solution for the situation is right by listening to your conflict partners’ view and learning what their self-interest is. Then, together, you can generate a solution that appeals to your common commitment as well as to each of your self-interests.”
Loerzel offers three ways to manage conflict in the workplace:
Honest and open communication, which includes not stepping over an issue. Be willing to share your perspective. A great way to start is by saying, “I’ve noticed,” “I wonder,” or “It occurs to me that …” Through this type of dialog, you’re taking full responsibility for your opinion and you reduce the need for others to become defensive.
Avoid triangulating. Triangulating is when you talk or complain about an issue to someone other than the individual with whom you have the complaint. This is also known as gossip and can be deadly in organizations—and for your career. Instead, go directly to the individual and approach the conversation as a fact-finding mission to uncover information about what happened. Then, you can collaborate toward a solution.
Resist making the other person wrong and being judge, jury, and executioner. Before reacting to a situation that has upset, disappointed, or frustrated you, generate some possible hopeful interpretations about what happened. There may not be a conflict; it may just be a misunderstanding or lack of complete information. If you react to a situation from blame or something wrong, you’re likely to create a conflict or, at a minimum, hurt feelings. There’s merit to the old adage to count backwards from 100 and come up with what may be as many as three to five hopeful interpretations before speaking to the other person.
“Conflict can be good because it enhances morale, encourages compromise, and stimulates a feel of team and morale,” says Loerzel. “Anyone in their career, from young CPA to someone more seasoned, needs to know how to manage conflict, either within their organization or certainly with clients and customers.”