How To Handle Workplace Conflict
Handling Workplace Conflict Starts with Challenging Our Paradigms in Work and Career
Some of our biggest frustrations in life can come from our work environment and any type of workplace conflict. It might be work that is unfulfilling, co-workers that we have difficulty getting along with, or demanding organizational structures that seem to strip us of our time and suffocate our passion and creativity. We so often refer to this complex and stressful situation with a blanket term like “career burnout.”
In many instances we may feel that our options for true fulfillment at work are limited and our agreements generally take us into the following three patterns of coping with the dissatisfaction and frustrations:
You can change the system…
When we care very much about what we are doing there is a passion to have it done well. The organization, or the systems in an organization don’t always seem to support what we think are improvements. When our desired changes aren’t implemented, we are often frustrating. Our challenge then becomes to change the people who are invested in the status quo. Without support we may look like a rebel and a non-conformist. This wasn’t the result we were looking for. Aside from the possible alienation, without noticeable change this uphill battle wears us down and the next option starts to look better.
Give up the workplace conflict fight to create change…
Change is wonderful a thing when it is accepted, but when ideas do not move forward into action, they die. If we become tired of the battle for change, we are tempted to drop the fight. We give up caring because caring about it just becomes too painful. If we find ourselves saying “It doesn’t matter” or “I don’t really care”, this usually isn’t exactly true. Often, we do care, it is just too painful to let ourselves feel the frustration and so we cover it up and push it away with these words. The solution appears to do the minimum that is required and take your place in the system. This is a defeat of our passion, inspiration and creativity and can lead us to our third option.
If the workplace conflict is beginning to be too much, you can quit or leave…
This may entail going into your own business, finding another job, career, or for the spiritually inclined, leaving all your belongings behind and entering into a commune or ashram. This is essentially the “Grass is Greener Somewhere Else” solution. I remember vividly the jokes with my co-worker about shucking it all to sell ice cream on the beach. While it may very well be “better” in some ways someplace else, it also might not be, and so change is a risk. Not to mention the amount of disruption to one’s life and lifestyle is not that appealing. There is a time and a place for this option but be very aware of why you are doing it, and perhaps first, consider an alternate path below.
An Alternate Path to Handling Workplace Conflict
While there are aspects of our professional life that are unfulfilling and unchangeable, there are many aspects that we can affect. Often the biggest factors that make our jobs unfulfilling are issues we can change. These factors have to do with what is going on inside us. If we identify and eliminate the judgments and victimizing stories that we carry around about our work, co-workers, promotion, recognition, and the nature of the work, we can alleviate many of the frustrations. If we don’t deal with the underlying stories and beliefs that our inner judge and victim bring to the workplace, they will often be carried into our next work environment. It will then appear that the new place was “just like the last place”, because our perceptions and our stories go with us. Once we deal with our stories and our point of view, then we can make the decision to make changes or look elsewhere with clarity and be sure of our choices.
Example of the alternate path:
By changing our stories and our point of view about our work we can change our whole experience in the workplace. For example: My client Mary works as an executive in a pharmaceutical company. She found it to be very unrewarding and would have preferred to work for a non-profit or a church where she could more directly help and impact people in their lives. However, being a single mother of two boys, it was not financially practical for her to let go of her job.
She knew she would not change the large corporate structure into being something that she would be deeply passionate about, but she wanted to feel satisfaction and fulfillment about what she did. We began to go to work on her stories. There were all kinds.
One such issue involved her struggle with a monthly report. In depth statistical data analysis was not her specialty and not something she enjoyed. Actually, she hated it. At least that was where the story started. As it turned out what she specifically didn’t enjoy was the stress she felt about getting the report “right.” More specifically she was afraid of what her peers and boss thought of her based on how well she prepared the report. That fear was based in imagining an external judgment. But below that was an image of herself as a failure that she had in her mind.
That was hard to see right away because it was covered over with a story and another image of all her good attributes. She then used this image to broadcast in her mind how good she was at her job, and how her boss didn’t appreciate her for what she was really good at. These last two layers were on the surface but just covered up the real problem. The whole structure of stories and compensating images was based in the stories of her judge and victim which we were able to identify and dissolve.
After her judge and victim stories were dissolved, so did her fears of judgment and rejection. Along with that she could let go of the need to project all her strengths as compensation for the lesser image in her mind. With that, the report she “hated” turned into no big deal. It seemed the real problem with the report had more to do with self-judgment, perception, and fear, than the work itself.
We continued working through her stories.
Another issue was that she didn’t like the number of hours that she worked, but when another product line opened up for management that would be a lot less work for the same pay, she was hesitant to take an equal pay position that had fewer demands. It turned out that she had agreements that how she felt emotionally was linked to herself worth, and herself worth in her mind was based in how hard the challenges were. She felt she had to overcome difficult challenges in order to feel accomplished.
Once we identified this, we worked to dissolve it.
Soon feeling good about herself didn’t require her to go into work overload. She would now allow herself choices that she wouldn’t consider before. With this dissolved she could make as much money as before, work less, and spend more quality time with her boys. She applied for the lateral transfer and was approved.
Along with dissolving these types of stories, we also began to create new attitudes about her position. One of these approaches was about being in service.
As Mary cleaned up a lot of her own drama-making agreements she began to see that so many of the people in her work team had similar emotional drama making dynamics. She began to implement team policies to circumvent their judge and victim dramas. Then there were subtle team building and mentoring sessions. One of these involved openly and honestly identifying mistakes they had made.
Mary created an environment where people didn’t have to be afraid of mentioning the problems they were facing on the project. It seemed that people’s fear of being judged and reprimand was disrupting communication. This of course required that Mary be honest and open about her own errors and that she not have emotional reactions and judgments to others’ mistakes.
How Mary destroyed the workplace conflict:
As Mary began to put herself into service to her co-workers and clients, she began to see them operate with less and less drama, and stress. With more open communication, less fear, and less judgment, the office gained more energy and efficiency to devote to their marketing projects. Through Mary’s service she began to influence the emotional environment of the people around her. Mary now has a number of people in her office that she mentors and is enriching their lives. Mary’s co-workers don’t realize this is her approach, and they don’t have to. This is both rewarding and fun for her. She also has less “surprises” on her work projects, spends more time at home, gets paid as well, and enjoys it more.
What is even better is that now Mary has the tools to work through her own stories and emotional reactions on her own.
Our Current Options:
- Attempting to change the work environment could have been a major struggle and likely been a dead-end endeavor. But Mary focused on changing her personal environment, dissolving her own beliefs and shifting her emotional state. That internal change allowed her to create the kind of professional environment that was rewarding and balanced. She identified the greatest factor determining her happiness – herself.
- Everyone’s work situation is different, but many of the frustrations are common to all of us. For some people, dissolving their fears, judgments, and false interpretations in their mind will make all the difference in their lives. However, this doesn’t always make the workplace or profession more fulfilling. In this case, have gratitude for the awareness that you’ve done your best, and know that it is just time to move on.
Related material regarding workplace conflict:
On one of the conferences calls I did a core belief inventory with a man about his frustrations with his boss. He didn’t feel recognized for his work or valued. After the inventory he saw a completely different situation.