February is the month to celebrate relationships! Relationships sustain us and inspire us. So much of what we accomplish is done through relationships. Some of our relationships we choose and some are thrust upon us.
Like at work! Work relationships are important and valuable, however, they are also often complicated and imposed. Just the nature of the work environment adds complexity. There is much diversity — personal differences (age, gender, culture, personality) and professional differences (methodology, opinions, skills sets, approaches). With the pace of change in today’s workplaces, jobs and priorities evolve which can lead to further conflicting views and competition for resources. Mergers and acquisitions create new teams needing to quickly and effectively work together. And then, on top of all that, our individual capacity for give-and-take may be eroded from the sheer pace of change, the sense of urgency to get things done and rampant job insecurity. Layer on all the complexities from our personal lives, and work can be a hot bed of unhealthy conflict.
The sad reality for many workplaces is that many get stuck in unhealthy conflict that can snowball, leading to a poisoned work environment and even workplace violence. It can be a Health and Safety concern, and both employers and employees have responsibilities to keep workplaces safe and free from violence, and to create a healthy environment that fuels creativity, new ideas and deeper understanding.
To stop that downward spiral of unhealthy conflict and to create a healthy work environment that promotes inspiration, compassion and effective teamwork:
- Keep in mind all of the environmental factors above that contribute to workplace conflict. Recognizing the many influences that create workplace disparities helps us to be more understanding of different opinions and contrasting approaches. We are often quick to personalize and interpret all sorts of meaning which may be completely off base. Withhold judgement and adopt a problem-solving attitude.
- Don’t ignore conflict. Conflict seldom resolves itself. Ask for help. Your organization may have supports and a reporting process.
- Be alert and watchful of your own style and approach. So often, as a conflict is debriefed, individuals are initially surprised at the impact they have had, but after reflection, they develop an understanding. Be pro-active and recognize the influence you have.
- Hone your own conflict management skills. This skill set will serve you wherever you go and will enhance both your effectiveness and your enjoyment of the work you do.
- Remember that you are not an island. While it might be less problematic if you could pursue your own ideas and set your own priorities, to accomplish organizational goals, we need to work together and consider the ideas and priorities of the team.