Conflict in the Workplace: A Waste of Time and Energy?

I thought today I would write about a subject people tend to avoid, conflict in the workplace.  Webster’s Dictionary defines conflict as the following:

a) competitive or opposing action of incompatibles : antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons) b) mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands

I define conflict as a clash of perceptions.  Typically conflict arises when two people perceive a situation in two different ways.  More simply put, one person thinks they are “right” and the other is “wrong,” and vice versa.  If people could find a way to lose this “right/wrong” mentality and consider that the other person is looking at the situation differently (not wrongly), I believe the amount of conflict in the corporate world would be drastically reduced.

For example, if two project managers were mentored by two different people in two different companies, their project management styles might be completely different.  They may both be very effective, but totally opposite.  If at some point the two of them end up managing together on a large project, there are a few possible outcomes:

  1. Due to their differing styles of management they could react like oil and vinegar, each one wanting to manage their way and avoid the other.  They would constantly be in conflict to the point that one of them would ask to leave the project.
  2. They would still be in major conflict in this scenario, however not to cause “problems” in the company, they would fight through the project and deliver an average to below average final product, hurting the reputation of both themselves and the company.
  3. In this scenario the two managers would understand that the other manager’s style is different because they were brought up differently.  They would see these differences as an opportunity to work together to draw upon each of their strengths and form a dynamic partnership, thus managing very successful projects together.

If I were to say to you right now, which of these three scenarios would you tend to fall into if you were one of these managers, of course you would say #3.  It’s easy to say that now, however I bet 9 out of 10 times you would fall into #2 (or #1 in a drastic situation) and here is why.  Most people in their career tend to take the path of least resistance, because it is easier, it is comfortable.  In scenarios 1 & 2 the managers are avoiding conflict.  Avoiding conflict is EASY, but it doesn’t make it go away internally.  This avoidance will bring about a negative energy that will hold you back from being the best you can be.  Successful leaders abandon the typical “right/wrong” mentality and look for the opportunity in every situation.  More times than not, they end up in scenario #3.

By running away from this conflict you are wasting your time and energy.  You can run from conflict, but you can’t hide!

How have you dealt with conflict in your workplace, whether it be your own or conflict among your staff?

Anthony Fasano, P.E., LEED AP, CPESC, CPSWQ, CPC

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