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Keeping Your Cool in Workplace Conflicts May Help You Keep Your Job

Keeping Your Cool in Workplace Conflicts May Help You Keep Your Job

With so many people overworked and overanxious about hanging onto their jobs, even the smallest workplace disagreements can turn into firestorms. These four steps can help you keep your cool -- and maybe even your job -- when conflicts arise. Here’s how.

Be Objective

Whenever you’re in conflict with anyone (at work or anywhere else), remember that the parties are not against each other -- they’re just for themselves. If you can objectively look at the situation and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you’re more likely to see what he wants and find a way to deliver that without diminishing your own needs. Asking an adversary if he’s willing to find a solution that works for you both often ends with a creative and satisfying outcome. Trying to beat him at his own game or publicly humiliating him represents a loss for both of you. Being seen as a bully or unnecessarily smashing a coworker might feel good in the moment, but it leaves you with a tarnished reputation. As a result, you may never know the extent to which others go out of their way not to recommend you for promotions or raises. What’s more, bad behavior on your part will put your name at the top of the list for the next round of layoffs.

Determine What You’re Really Fighting About

Think beyond what appears to be the issue at hand. You may have had situations in the past in which you agreed to a resolution only to find that the same problem keeps coming up. If you’re fighting with a coworker about timely reports, chances are you’re really disagreeing about deeper values such as respect and reputation. Have a conversation about what the issue represents for both of you. You might be surprised to learn that the hoopla isn’t about the reports at all, but the tone in which you ask for them or the disrespect your boss feels when you miss a deadline. Keeping a positive line of communication open will keep the noise down, and that can only be a good thing for your career.

Look for What You Can Control

Next, control what you can control. If things are going crazy and it seems everyone is at each other’s throats, choose the amount of energy you’ll put into the issue. Even if the only thing you can control is how you’ll make a graceful exit, plan how you’ll leave on good terms. Change the way you look at the problem and talk about it in terms of a learning experience with a hopeful ending. Saying something like, “It’s not been an easy time, but I’m confident we’ll figure something out,” will get others to see the conflict as resolvable. They may even see you as a leader, and that’s not a bad thing if your boss has to decide whether to keep you or a coworker.

Change Your Expectations

Finally, when your expectations don’t fit the situation, change your expectations. Notice I said change, not lower. Your expectations may be the source of your frustration and the reason the conflict is continuing. I’m not talking about expectations regarding job performance, but rather personal preferences for how another person behaves. Your frustrations will decrease if you stop holding others to standards they don’t know they’re being measured against. Give yourself permission to get a new yardstick and laugh all the way to the bank -- or at least every day you’re earning a paycheck.

[Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies. Having spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing, Scott realized that resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success. Prior to retirement from corporate life, Scott developed the “America at Work” video series. She is also the recipient of a rare personal award from the Small Business Administration for her commitment to small business development.]

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