Some time ago in a business meeting, I got into an argument with a co-worker. We were both offended at an imagined slight. The meeting went off course, and a loud, heated conversation ensued. It wasn’t the finest hour for anyone involved. Neither party accepted responsibility for his actions, and many in the room let it become a wedge that would forever change the dynamic of the company.
Some conflict will occur in every relationship. How you deal with that conflict, particularly in the workplace, is what can set you apart from others. It can certainly impact your ability to meet your career goals.
How do you handle disagreements with your boss or co-workers at your self-storage company? Do you fight fire with fire? Eye for an eye? Plan intricate strategies to get your shots in first? No, of course not. Nor can you bury your head in the sand, or you could miss out on job opportunities. Rather, you need to face conflicts head on. Communicate about the problem and find a resolution.
Don’t Make It Personal
People naturally avoid conflict, and yet they’ll stew on an issue for months or even years. Fundamentally, we all feel the need to be “part of the pack.” Through years of relationships we’ve developed coping mechanisms to use when there’s a risk of upsetting that pack. However, most of those learned behaviors aren’t healthy or productive, and our inability to recognize them often leads to bigger problems.
Looking back at my behavior during that out-of-control meeting, I’ve realized I took much of what was said personally, as though someone were insulting my family honor. And I wasn’t alone. As if part of some ancient knightly duel, we mounted our horses and brandished our lances! Henceforth, no man shalt insult our honor!
Pretty ridiculous, right? In reality, nothing that was said was a personal attack, but at the time it seemed so. Have you ever felt this way? When you do, there can be no productive communication or work accomplished. It’s essential to work through the conflict to accomplish your personal and company goals.
So, the first step in preventing workplace conflict is: Don’t make it personal. It’s a concept much easier said than done; however, if you think about situations you’ve experienced, you’ll begin to realize most conflict is self-imposed.
Learn to Communicate
Silence isn’t communication. When a conflict occurs, don’t sit back and hope time will heal all wounds. That’s a copout, and you can do better.
After a cooldown period, be the bigger person and reach out to anyone involved in the disagreement. Send an e-mail or text to schedule a time to talk. This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts, and then you’ll have an uninterrupted opportunity to discuss the problem. Here are a few tips to ensure all goes well:
- Prepare your thoughts; maybe even write them down so you can communicate better. The responsibility to start the meeting right rests on your shoulders. What you choose to do will determine the course of discussion.
- Check your ego at the door. This isn’t a high-stakes negotiation regarding the safety of mankind. You can have tremendous personal power when you lose the burden of your ego. Just think … You might actually be wrong. Gasp!
- Exercise empathy and see the situation from the other person's point of view. I have difficulty with this; however, I can attest to the value of the principle and the power it brings in stressful conversations.
- Don’t talk at the other person; talk with him. Even though you’re leading the conversation, make sure it flows both ways. Each person’s thoughts and opinions need to be heard.
- How you say something is as important as what you say. Avoid phrases such as “you always,” “you never” or “every single time.” These terms are over general, exaggerated and absolute. They’re also inaccurate, and if you examine the situation more closely, you’ll realize how untrue they are. They do nothing but make things worse.
- Use clear and responsible terms. Consider saying, “I feel ______when you _____.” Words are all we have, so it’s important to make them count. When using statements like this, you identify how you feel and focus on the other person's actions, not his character. The ability to put a name on a feeling and action helps each party establish a clear, identifiable issue.
Recognize the Power of Silence
During your discussion, the conversation can go any number of ways. Now, it’s good to recognize the power of silence. This is the time when it’s OK to be quiet. Instead, listen. Resist the need to fill all the “dead space.” Most of us don’t truly listen when we’re waiting for our turn to speak. Instead, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say next. Your silence will create a space for the other person to talk, whether he wants to or not. Spend that time hearing what he has to say.
There will always be conflict in the workplace. The sad truth is some people will be jerks and may make your life miserable. But most people are good and have the same desires and goals you. If you’re going to spend a third of your life on the job, don’t you want it to be as free from struggle as possible? Taking five minutes to talk seems a small price to pay considering the dividends you’ll yield for years to come.
Rick Beal is vice president of development and management for Easy Storage Solutions, where he spearheads the consulting and third-party management division. His goal is to help a historically slow-changing industry embrace new, more profitable ideas. His motto is, “Storage is a business of inches not miles.” To contact him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or stay up-to-date with all his publications and speaking engagements at www.linkedin.com/in/storagerick.