Conflict In The Workplace

How To Deal With Conflict In The Workplace

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Have you ever been through a rough time at work? I don’t mean the kind of stress that many of us experience with tight deadlines, full plates, and work-life balance nowhere in sight. I’m talking about a rough time with people. A personal struggle that involved one on one difficulties or disagreements that escalate beyond the typical, every day conflict in the workplace.

Have you ever had a knock-down, drag-out disagreement with your manager about the quality your performance on a particular project or even a full year of performance? Have you ever received performance feedback that extended into the realm of an attack on your personal character? Have you ever had a colleague or a leader who constantly beat you down with strictly negative feedback that was often caustic and hurtful?

You can certainly influence someone’s behavior in the workplace, but your behavior is the only thing that is totally under your control. Your response to the situation is the only thing you have absolute control over. Every situation and every response will be unique, but here are three things you can consider in order to determine exactly how you need to respond:

  1. Consider the patterns
  2. Consider the source
  3. Consider your options

1. Consider The Patterns

Have you heard feedback in the past that is similar? Be honest – have you ever had an inkling that the message you received might have elements of truth, even if this person delivered it harshly and ineffectively? If there is some truth in the feedback received, you can at least gain from the self awareness that comes with identifying a challenge.

After you have cooled from the encounter, recall the content of the message separated from the tone and the delivery. Make a list of feedback or input that you accept and make changes as desired.

2. Consider The Source

Of course you want to do a good job at work and it is important that your manager believes that you create value in the workplace. There is some truth to the fact that we have to please our leaders in order to remain gainfully employed! An important question, though, is whether or not you will allow this person’s opinion to have an impact on your professional self-concept or confidence in what you know and are able to produce at work. In other words, consider the source of the feedback.

Is the person a respected colleague who simply behaved badly or had a bad day? Do you typically align with the person in terms of what you value and how you define ‘good’? Or, is this person a known “bully”, self-aggrandizing, unrelenting tough guy (or gal) with whom you have very little in common?

3. Consider Your Options

Once you have considered the patterns and considered the source, you have choices to make. And, the good news is, you are in total control of two things now – your outward response and your mental response to the situation. A mature response requires a level of self-awareness on your part. If it makes sense, seek the opinion (or a ‘reality check’) from a trusted advisor who will be honest with you. Test your interpretation of the situation with an outsider to ensure you are not missing something while you are in the heat of the situation.

The answers to the questions about the source may not impact your actual outward response to the situation, but they should certainly have an impact on how you internally process the episode – do you take it to heart? Do you adjust how you feel about yourself professionally? Or, do you recognize that the “problem” is not within your control and simply move on?

You, and only you, determine how you will ‘feel’ about yourself post-encounter. You can allow the emotional encounter, whether based in truth or not, to have a negative impact on your perception of self. You can allow it to escalate your stress level. Or, you can take whatever good ‘content’ there was in the message, but not allow the attack to have an impact on your mental well-being.

Whether or not you confront the person about the actual encounter is a tough call and will vary based on your situation, your relationship, your own style, and the potential value to be gained from follow-up versus moving on. If you do decide to confront the person about the episode, remember, you are still only in control of your response.

(Disclaimer – if your experience ever reaches the realm of harassment or a hostile work environment, it is wise to seek support and expertise from your Human Resources group or a trusted leader in the company.)


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Eileen Habelow

Dr. Eileen Habelow, Director of Team Effectiveness at Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company; formerly SVP of Organizational Development at Randstad; focused on helping people and teams reach their maximum potential.

2 comments

  1. When it comes to disagreement about your annual performance review, one thing you might consider is keeping track of informal feedback you received over the course of a year and seeing how it compares to you year end review and if it vastly differs, you might have a case. If the first time you hear negative comments is at your annual review, your manager isnt doing their job

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