Work Skills: Conflict

Everybody hates conflict, except me. Arguing and fighting sucks…

I feel that most people would agree with that. Fighting and arguing can be physically and emotionally exhausting and I think life would be much easier if everyone just got along. Right? Well, yes. That is correct; however, people are people and you would be foolish to think that you can work in any conflict-free environment. The alternative to living in a conflict-free world is to learn how to engage in healthy conflict. Trust me, there is such a thing as healthy conflict. 

I am a big believer that our family systems shape how we live our day to day lives and that is no different when we enter the workforce. The way we grew up experiencing or watching other around us handle conflict is likely the way we will navigate conflict in our own lives. 

I remember my family arguing and fighting a lot when I was growing up, but typically conflict was (is) handled in a couple of ways: Silence until explosion or avoidance.

The Silent Killer

When someone did or said something that was offensive or hurtful, we wouldn’t say that we were hurt or we were offended. We would typically erupt at the next minor occurrence (i.e. Why didn’t you take out the trash? Or, did you take my favorite t-shirt?). This would then turn into a shouting match and maybe the boxing gloves were brought out to “resolve” our issues. 

Obviously, a shouting match or a physical fight isn’t going to happen in the workplace (or maybe it does), but we’ve all seen this kind of behavior before. This silent explosion of negative emotions can be detrimental to work relationships. Leading to emotional distance and irreparable damage to trust and the ability to work closely with a colleague. 

The white elephant in the room

My family had (still has) a difficult time embracing the tensions of conflict, so we will avoid it altogether. It is almost as if we all silently agreed that, “Everything is ok because we want it to be. Let’s forget about the issue and just love each other.” Although avoiding the yelling and physical fights, this didn’t solve much either because the issue is still there, we just chose to ignore it. 

You might not love the people you work with or even want to work with them, but you do so why not make the relationship prosper? From my experience, choosing to ignore an issue can lead to exactly what you are trying to avoid in the first place, a strained relationship. The simple fact is, not talking about an issue can be just as damaging as screaming and yelling about it. 

How much do you care? 

As I have learned more about myself and my own unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict, I have been shown (told by my wife) a lot about myself. I have learned how to care for others despite my desire to be right or make someone else feel bad. Essentially, I have learned to care less about being right and more about caring for the other person. I have grown to value healthy conflict for a couple reasons: 

  1. When two people participate in healthy conflict, it shows that they care for one another and the idea. 
  2. The result of healthy conflict is deeper relationship

How we handle conflict is important and can drastically change the dynamic of friendships, even entire workspace. You have an opportunity to be change agents in your workplaces. Acknowledge that you have your own stuff. Your own fears, your own anxieties, your own needs, and see the other person. Everywhere we go we have opportunities to create environments of grace, which provide space for change and true reconciliation. 

I am not saying that it is our job to be doormats to horrible people. I believe that we should recognize and nontolerant of toxic behavior. However, I am suggesting that we come into arguments with transparency and humility and a belief that this relationship is worth more than my idea. 

For some more practical ways to engage conflict in the workplace, check out this article called, "6 Tips to for dealing with Conflict".

Jonathan Dumas

Jonathan grew up in Chula Vista, California up until he was 15 years old. He then moved to a small town in the High Desert called Barstow where he spent his high school years. He graduated with a degree in History/Political Science from Vanguard University in 2014. He is currently working as a Resident Coordinator at Vanguard, while he is completing his Master's degree in Organizational Psychology.