Conflict

Quick thought on conflict (again taken from a lecture and textbook reading):

Often times as leaders we can fix a problem but we don’t always fix the emotions that arose from the conflict.

Many years ago, I remember I had just started a shift when my boss came onto the work floor. My coworker had been working all day that day and for the few days preceding, which was unusual for her because she was very part time. I, on the other hand, worked full time but hadn’t been there in several days. My boss commented to me, in front of my coworker, “it seems like you live here!” (which out of context sounds weird, but it was a normal, friendly exchange).

When my boss left, my coworker got very upset because she was already working above and beyond her normal hours and hadn’t gotten the acknowledgement for her hard work she thought she deserved. Judging by how much a simple comment had offended her, it was obvious that this coworker was getting burned out on the job. I encouraged her to talk to our boss since our boss was friendly and approachable and would respond well. They did talk, but the conversation centered around reducing her hours with a small mention from the coworker of “I feel like I live here, too. I’m getting too worn down.”

My boss reduced her hours and they both felt like the situation was resolved. Fast forward, as a supervisor, I’ve been here many times. A staff comes to me tired and looking for help. We change a process, fix a problem, prioritize the to-do list, but rarely do we address underlying emotions, attitudes, or issues that caused the problems in the first place.

As it turns out, my coworker continued to be upset that her work wasn’t being acknowledged. It wasn’t an issue of not being thanked for working extra hours. She had a fundamental belief that her supervisor didn’t appreciate her, which later morphed into feeling disliked, which later morphed into a victim mentality. Ultimately she left the job. It had nothing to do with her schedule and everything to do with the emotions of feeling under appreciated that were birthed from that very first conflict. I’m sure when that coworker left, my boss had absolutely no idea what had gone wrong. I don’t think I would have either!

So team members: be on guard for those little things that turn into big things. Look at a situation without your emotions. Do you believe your boss tried to help you resolve your issue the best they could, considering that they have no idea how you feel? If so, maybe dial back those emotions. Or, if you can, express your feelings to your supervisor.

And team leaders: be aware of the emotional component of conflict. Even if the problem is resolved, know that the ramifications of emotions can be long lasting. “I’m never listened to,” “nobody appreciates me,” “my opinion doesn’t matter,” “I’m not respected enough on this team.” These are all thoughts that creep in, especially when a team member is on the “losing side” of conflict. Conflict is healthy and good as long as its handled correctly from start to finish! Don’t stop the conflict process when the immediate problem is settled. See it through to the end: when your team experiences growth!

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