Preventing Assumptions and Presumptions
Between different personalities and working styles, stress within the organization and in people's personal lives, and changing teams and projects, conflict in the office (whether in person or virtual) isn't unheard of. So how can we fix it, and if we can't fix it, how can we stay productive in spite of conflict?
Let's look at where a big chunk of conflict comes from--because, in reality, we make a lot of it up all on our own.
Think about the last time something (or someone) ticked you off, and how you reacted. What did you think about the other person?
"The guy that cut me off on I235 this morning is such a jerk!"
"The lady who didn't say hi in the elevator must hate everyone."
"My boss gave me a ton of extra work because he thinks I don't do anything."
"That guy didn't invite me to the Zoom meeting because he thinks he's more important."
What's happening here? Did you notice that all those statements assume something about the other person? They assign intent, and put words or feelings that haven't been expressed in the other person's mouth--that's where a lot of us run into trouble. Maybe the first guy is late for an interview because he got a flat tire and had to take his wife's car. Maybe the woman in the elevator is just painfully shy. Maybe your boss has a lot of faith in your abilities, and forgets how much is actually on your plate right now. And maybe it was simply an oversight that you weren't invited to the Zoom meeting, or the email got lost in an inbox.
How can we prevent conflict, or deal with it before it gets out of hand? Turns out there are some things you can do on your own--keep reading!
1. Don't take it personally
Sometimes we get offended when people touch something that's ours--a business case, a presentation, a task. We think the other person doesn't trust us to do it well, or wants to take credit for the assignment. Whoops--there we go, assigning motives and intent again! Maybe they just want to help, maybe they know you have higher priorities and wanted to get it off your plate for you. It's hard to do in the moment, but don't assume that any given action is a personal attack--assigning motive or intent might make a good case in court, but it will get you into trouble in the office.
2. Take different personalities into account
Our default tendencies can take some getting used to--especially when there's someone new on the team. These differences are actually really good for the team, so take the time to get to know each other--just because someone is quiet doesn't mean they're no fun. We process things at different speeds, we have different funny bones and quirks, and it's worth getting to know what those are. Plus, there will be less conflict; it's awfully easy to push someone's buttons when you don't know what they are.
3. Close your mouth and open your ears
This goes along with the phrase Stephen Covey coined in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." We like to share about ourselves--we get it. But if you understand where someone's coming from, you can rewrite and correct the narrative you've drafted in your head about why she said that or why he did this. Whenever you're in the middle of a sticky situation, take a minute to listen and process what's really going on. It might shed some light on the situation and help you get past it, and you'll have more insight into the other person as an individual.
Staying productive in times of conflict can be tricky, and hopefully these tools are useful to you!