Several people ask about how to address workplace conflict. How do you get along with someone who won’t communicate? What if you are consistently out of the loop with information necessary for you to be successful? What if you have to work with someone with whom you simply can’t get along?
Personality conflicts are a normal part of the work place. In fact, they often start in school. Students are assigned to teams for assignments. As an instructor, I often heard complaints from individual students bemoaning another’s lack of participation or engagement. Some were planners and wanted to get organized early, others were last minute and used to pulling all-nighters. It’s ripe for conflict. My response…work it out. You’re going to have to work with people in teams in the work place, you may as well start now.
Not many appreciated the response. They wanted me to intervene, to fix it. Much the way employees want their managers to.
In ideal work environments, teams are fostered and developed. Planning occurs where work goals and norms are established. For projects and new teams thrust together for a common purpose, it is often a good idea to do planning retreats. It’s always good to know and realize the team development stages.
That’s the ideal. It’s difficult, however, when you work in an established environment without a lot of team camaraderie and development. So what do you do?
First, know yourself. What is your work style and how do you communicate? Know your preference styles (Myers-Briggs, Jung Typology Test) and look up the profile. Don’t use this information as a crutch or excuse, you have to adapt to work with various styles other than yours. But at least you know how you prefer to interact with others.
Then, engage your colleagues. If you have heated interactions in meetings or under pressure, step back a day or two. Talk with them later without the pressure of a situation.
Empathy goes a long way. Know the pressures they are under, the demands of their role. Figure out ways to help them. Little things make a difference over time.
If you need something from them to get your job done, it’s important to convey that in a non-confrontive manner. Start with ‘I know you have a number of things on your plate, but in order for me to complete my task, it is necessary to get your input.’
If none of that works, and you work with an incorrigible, ornery, passive-aggressive, you may have a good case with your manager. Talk with them in an objective manner. Don’t harp on the individual’s personality or foibles. Focus on the work. Chances are if you are having difficulties, others are as well.
If that doesn’t work, you need to come to grips with the fact that sometimes, these situations will not go away. You have choices. Live with it, work around it, or leave.
I had a management situation once where two very capable individuals had a years-long conflict. I walked into it late and tried my best to referee. After several months, HR engagement and a formal workplace grievance, I realized that their inability to get along was causing too much negative energy to those around them, my time and overall productivity. I finally pulled them in and let them know that enough was enough. Either work it out or leave, but their constant bickering and conflict was not going to be tolerated. Furthermore, it was going to be dealt with as a performance issue for both of them…inability to function positively in a team environment. There choice was that or leave. One of them left.
The best raw skills and talent will not overcome the inability to work effectively in a team. Not anymore.
This will probably strike a nerve with many readers. We all deal with this. If you have any ideas about effective strategies for dealing with others, please comment.
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