The First Thing to Do When Solving a Workplace Conflict

Having a tough conversation is tough. But why? What makes it so difficult? That’s a multipart question of course,  but the first challenge is just recognizing that you need to have a tough conversation. Many people don’t even realize they need to have a “CAREfrontation.” (I know it’s cheesy but you’re going to remember that word now.) Most of us are accustom to operating at a subpar level with someone were the conflict is slight. For example, you might have a fixed idea in your mind that one of your co-workers doesn’t appreciate you based on a comment they made a long time ago. You might not be aware you’re doing it, but you probably don’t seek that person out  to collaborate on projects the way you do with others. Think about it. Who in your office might not appreciate your contributions? Do you not appreciate someone in the office because of the way they behave? In your mind it’s probably not that big a deal and not something that needs to be addressed formally. But ask yourself, would you both feel better at work if you actually did address it in a constructive way?

Sometimes the issue isn’t slight at all and you know you have a big problem with someone. In fact, it’s so big you don’t know how you could possibly address it in a constructive way. You’re liable to be too emotional to talk directly. An example might be your boss embarrassing you in front of your coworkers with a piece of criticism you feel should have been given in private. In that instance we’re hurt and probably even mad. Talking to our boss about something like this would be a vulnerable position to be in and vulnerability always brings a lot of emotions to the surface. So do you think you would end up address it with your boss after the fact? I find most people are too scared to talk to their boss directly about something she/he did that really hurt us. We normally burry it and hope it doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem. You can’t just burry it and not have it affect the way you interact in the future. It will negatively impact your work and your relationship with them.

What is the first step to recognizing conflict and developing courage to have a “carefrontation”?

Today I coached someone through a conflict they were having with a direct report. Rita (not her real name) works as the manager of a private golf club. She came to me with a problem she was having with one of the golf pros, John. When John gives lessons, a portion of the lesson fee goes to John and a portion of the fee goes to the club. Rita had become suspicious that John was giving lessons and pocketing the entire fee under the table. John was a great pro and she didn’t want to loose him, but what should she do? She didn’t have concrete evidence that it was happening so she could be wrong about the whole thing. If she wasn’t wrong and her boss found out John was taking fees under the table, he’d surely ask Rita if she knew John was doing this. Additionally she was upset he seemed to think he could take advantage of the club and it’s community that made it possible for him to do the work he loved to do. Not knowing what to do she reached out to me for advice.

Rule #1: Find a coach.

When I say find a coach it doesn’t have to be someone you’re paying to help you. It just means talk to someone with an outside perspective. Someone you trust to give you sound advice and help you decipher what is real and what is your emotions getting the better of you. It helps gain clarity on what should be done. It’s not the case that every time a situation arises like this that the best thing to do is have a one on one conversation but more often than not it is. (I could get on a rant about formal disciplinary processes in the corporate world that treat people like children right here but I’ll leave that for another post.) Having someone to talk to independant of the outcome will help you develop a plan and make sure you design a CAREfrontation that is constructive for the situation. There are often lots of variables to consider and the way we word these conversations becomes extremely important for whether they are successful or not.

As for Rita, she’s still in the process of deciding how she wants to confront the situation. She’s heard my advice for talking to him directly and she acknowledges that it’s probably the right path, but she hasn’t fully committed to it yet. She’s chosen to wait and see if she finds more evidence. I’m giving her a day before I help her come to the realization that she’s deflecting responsibility by delaying and making herself a by-standard in the process. Coaching isn’t always telling people what they want to hear unfortunately.

Have you had a confidant help you through a situation like this? How did it turn out? Do you have a story about a direct conversation you had that didn’t go well and you needed an outside perspective? Let’s get a conversation going in the comments so we can help each other learn more about how to handle these critical points in developing relationships with others at work.

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