Some people might tell you that the only way to manage work disagreements is to dive right in and straighten things out. This isn’t true. While dealing with the conflict directly can be the most effective route, it isn’t the only one. In this chapter I explain your four options: Do nothing, address it indirectly, address it directly, and exit the relationship.
Address It Directly: Confront the Issue
You can also try to change the situation by explicitly addressing it. A direct confrontation is when you talk to the other person—either in the moment the conflict arises or at a later time. Generally, this involves explaining your side of the conflict, listening to the other person’s perspective, and then, ideally, agreeing on a resolution.
For those in more assertive cultures such as the United States, this can be an effective option, and it’s the one I focus on for most of this book. Meyer also points to other countries, such as France, Russia, and Spain, where it’s acceptable to have “open, vigorous, strong” disagreements. Some organizational cultures are also more prone to addressing conflict directly, says Brett. The financial industry, for example, has a reputation for people openly disagreeing, sometimes in seemingly harsh ways.
This can be a risky option if it’s not handled well because it might heighten the conflict rather than defuse it. That’s why the majority of this book is dedicated to showing you how to prepare for the conversation, engage productively, and reach a resolution.
• You worry that there will be lingering resentment if you don’t clear the air
• You’ve tried to do nothing or indirectly address it and the problem persists
• You previously had a positive relationship with the person and you want to get it back on track
Keep in mind that this option
• Can be good for a relationship—going through difficult experiences together can make your connection stronger and your relationship more resilient
•Allows you to voice your opinion or feelings, if that’s important to you
• Helps you develop a better understanding of yourself and your counterpart
• Can improve your work if you can incorporate others’ views and opinions
• Could earn you a reputation as aggressive or combative if you do it too often (or not well)
What it looks like in practice
A close work friend of Aparna’s pulled her aside to tell her that another coworker of theirs, Zia, had been spreading rumors that Aparna was looking for a new job. Aparna knew that Zia was competitive with her - their jobs were closely related—and that in Zia’s ideal world, she would take over several of Aparna’s projects. But Aparna was not on the job market. “It was absurd. I hadn’t had one networking conversation, and I’d barely updated my résumé in years,” she says. She and Zia had small disagreements in the past over what direction to take particular projects, but they’d always been able to move past them. “I always thought we were healthy competitors. We made each other work harder.”
Worried that Zia’s rumors would put her position at risk, especially if her boss heard them, she decided to talk with Zia directly. She asked Zia out for coffee and explained what she heard and asked for her perspective on it. At first Zia denied that she had said anything to anyone, but she eventually conceded that she’d heard something about Aparna talking with a competitor and she may have mentioned it to a few people. Aparna explained that that was not the case and asked Zia to stop. She agreed, and while they continued to compete on occasion, Aparna didn’t hear news of Zia talking behind her back again.
Please read the next section in part 2 - Your Options For Handling Conflict (Part 2): Address It Indirectly