Conflict and You

Do you and the people you work with share the exact same beliefs, perspectives, priorities and goals? Probably not. Hmmm, I guess that means you are going to experience conflict. Conflict is a condition in which people’s concerns appear to be incompatible. In fact since you and your co-workers are not intellectual and emotional clones of one another, conflict is inevitable. Conflict is a natural byproduct of our environment.

Conflict is not inherently bad or evil (although some of us have been taught to avoid conflict like the plague). Conflict does not have to lead to fighting. Conflict handled well can strengthen our relationships and lead to a healthier work environment.

Consider the following situation:

You want to leave the office in time for your daughters school play. Your boss needs a lengthy proposal updated by tomorrow morning. If you stay and work on the proposal you will miss the school play. If you don’t work on the proposal your company might lose a valuable customer and a lucrative contract.

You are in conflict. What you want is to see your daughter in her play. You do not want to stay at the office and work on the proposal. Of course you don’t want to lose this customer either. It is not that your boss wants you to miss the school play, but he needs that proposal by 9 am. Right now, the two of you have conflicting priorities.

Who is to blame for this conflict? The customer who called for the last minute proposal? Perhaps your boss is to blame for agreeing to turn around the proposal updates by tomorrow morning? Is it your fault for trying to achieve a little work/life balance?

You can spend some time on the ‘blame train’ but where will that get you? Go ahead and spend a good fifteen minutes blaming your boss for giving in too easily and agreeing to meet this deadline. It is his fault because he should have asked you first. It is his fault because he thinks too much about business and not enough about people. OK, feel better? Did the conflict go away now? NO!

There is no fault in conflict. There is no one to blame. Conflict just is. Your perspective is that this should wait, the customer believes that your company should make the proposal updates a priority and your boss believes that making this customer happy is critical to the ongoing success of the company. Your concerns appear to be incompatible.

What about this? You could simply pretend you did not get the message and just go home. You get to go to the play and the conflict is resolved. Or is it? The conflict is not resolved and you probably worried about the situation throughout the entire play, you did not even notice when your daughter nailed her scene. When you get back to the office tomorrow your boss will be waiting for you in your office. It is not going to be pretty.

Maybe you should become angry. You think, “You know this is all because that stupid boss of mine has no children of his own, if he had children he would not expect this of me. All he has is work.” Maybe you decide you have had enough and you are going to stand up to him! You tell your boss that he agreed to the updates, you did not and you are not a slave. You do not have to stay in the office late every night and there is nothing he can do about it. Basically you have decided to declare war on your boss. Well in war, after much pain and anguish, one side loses and one side wins. Do you really think you are the winner here?

Is missing your daughters play really the only solution? Could you go to the play and finish the updates at home later? Could you go to the play and finish the updates early tomorrow morning? Could you split the updates, you make some, your boss or someone else makes some?

Perhaps the two of you could sit down and brainstorm. Maybe the customer needs some key information from the proposal first thing in the morning and the rest can follow later. Maybe this is the right time for someone else on the team to step in and help with the proposal.

You are in conflict, but the conflict does not have to be ugly or combative. If you and your boss can sit down together and work through this conflict productively it will become easier the next time and the time after that etc. But how can I do this you ask? Don’t feel conflicted, we will cover that in future articles.