Workplace Conflicts Must be Handled With Patience and Professionalism

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Conflicts in the workplace may lead to overall job dissatisfaction. (Photo by 'LaurMG')
Conflicts in the workplace may lead to overall job dissatisfaction. (Complete photo credits are located at the end of this article.)

Just a Typical Monday Morning …

Rise and shine! (Photo by 'Evil saltine')
Good morning sunshine! Now get up and seize that day!!

It’s 6 am on a Monday and the alarm goes off — forcibly yanking you out of a pleasant dream involving sunshine, sandy beaches and a never ending supply of strawberry daiquiris.  You scowl at the alarm clock with murderous intent through heavy eyelids, plotting the insufferable machine’s not-so-subtle death by sledgehammer.  But as your conscious mind valiantly attempts to arrange your thoughts coherently without the necessary fuel (re: coffee), a hazy realization dawns that if you are not someplace called ‘work’ soon bad things will happen.

The thought of work, in turn, brings another image to mind — a person’s face.  For some reason, this mental profile pic elicits feelings of annoyance, malice and an overall sense of rage that makes your distaste for alarm clocks seem like a minor irritation, at best.  As your brain continues its slow and inexorable morning march towards lucidity, you are able to put a name and context to that hated face: “Joe/Jane So-and-So,” who is none other than your boss/co-worker!  Reluctantly, you grant the alarm a stay of execution and drag yourself out of bed; mentally steeling yourself for yet another day of forced coexistence with the hated individual whom you wish had a job on the other side of the world (or at least in another department).

Conflicts in the Workplace May Lead to Overall Job Dissatisfaction (and Reduced Productivity)

Forced to share an office cubicle or other work space with someone you aren’t too crazy about?  We’ve all been there.  The culprit may be an overbearing boss, a gossip mongering co-worker or even a condescending IT repairperson, but the end result is always the same — i.e., job dissatisfaction.  And as current research has indicated, job dissatisfaction stemming from hostile interactions in the workplace can have far reaching implications for psychological wellness and business productivity.

According to The University of Colorado, managers typically spend at least twenty-five percent of their time resolving workplace conflicts among employees.But in a recent article published by The Houston Chronicle, business administration expert Rose Johnson lists poor management as a major contributing factor of employee dissatisfaction, writing: “Managers are responsible for motivating employees, planning, organizing … A key reason employees perform poorly in the workplace is poor management.”2 When you consider that a 2013 Gallup poll — conducted for the global consulting giant’s State of the American Workplace Report (compiled from research performed between 2010 and 2012) — estimated that over fifty percent of full-time workers in the U.S. are dissatisfied with their jobs, it seems logical to conclude that a number of managers just aren’t handling their duties (including conflict resolution) effectively.3

In an article for MSN Money that elaborates on Gallup’s findings, Jason Notte points out that employee dissatisfaction costs U.S. companies anywhere from $450-$550 billion every year in reduced productivity.Figures vary regarding exactly how much lost capital is the direct result of poorly-mediated employee conflicts each year, but one study commissioned by CCP Inc. in 2008 (entitled Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness it to Thrive) had the number at $359 billion annually.With that kind of money at stake, it’s easy to understand why many businesses have begun to implement robust conflict resolution training programs in recent years.

Happy, well-adjusted workers with high-level job satisfaction tend to outperform unhappy workers with low-level job satisfaction, after all — which ultimately translates into increased corporate profits.  As more and more companies catch on to this fact, aggressive “top-down” management styles are gradually being phased out in favor of “bottom-up” methodologies (where applicable).  But as anyone who has ever scoffed at the idyllic, actor-portrayed working environment in a typical HR video knows, some people just refuse to acknowledge the merits of professional civility.

Workplace conflict (Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov)
Workplace conflict

For example, some managers will invariably treat their employees like indentured servants — baiting, bullying, chastising and intimidating their way through any given work day.  Similarly, the law of averages dictates that you are going to be stuck working with a co-worker whom you dislike at some point.  A plethora of articles may be found online detailing effective coping strategies for dealing with difficult people in the workplace, but they are all built upon a keystone principal that seems inherent to every good business venture: maintaining dignity through patience and professionalism.

Workplace Conflicts Must be Handled With Patience and Professionalism

Do you have a workplace nemesis?

Although it may feel immensely satisfying to tell workplace nemeses exactly what you think of them, this is usually a bad idea for several reasons.  Firstly — and your author is speaking from personal experience here — if the individual that you are telling off happens to be your boss, then your prospects for continued employment with the organization in question are logarithmically slim. (Ah … capricious youth!) Moreover, being reduced to a shouting match at work is humiliating, bringing to mind an image of kindergartners engaged in a heated debate over who has/hasn’t got ‘cooties’.  Finally, whenever you lose your temper and allow someone to get the best of you in a public setting, you are demonstrating for all who can see that you are unable to keep your cool in a high-pressure situation, which ultimately reduces your chances for promotion.

Someone at work getting you fired up? (Photo courtesy of NASA)
Someone at work getting you fired up?

In a 2012 blog post for the Harvard Business Review, John Beeson argues that it is difficult if not impossible for an employee to successfully depose a superior due to a personality conflict, by appealing to higher level management.This means that even though your boss is a jerk, he or she is probably not going to get fired after you call attention to the matter.  Chances are that your boss’ bosses are already aware of the situation, and have elected to keep him or her around regardless — possibly due to a unique area of expertise or extra service that your boss offers the company, which would be difficult to replace.

Therefore, the only tangible results that you may hope to achieve by publicly calling attention to your manager’s foibles are negative, as you have now put yourself on his or her radar as a malcontent.  This may result in increased (and possibly unwarranted) scrutiny regarding your work performance, reprimands, or even outright termination.  A more productive approach would be to maintain your poise while sussing out exactly what expertise (and/or added services) your boss brings to the table — i.e., what makes him or her worth the aggravation — and then offer a better alternative yourself.

Besides, when has merely complaining about a problem to anyone who will listen every accomplished anything?  Problem solving and proactivity go hand-in-hand, and you want to be identified within your organization as someone who can get things done, rather than someone who bemoans his or her lot in life.  There are more appropriate venues for airing grievances, such as in the privacy of your own home while speaking to a trusted confidant, or even your company’s human resources department.

Losing control of your emotions in the workplace while actively complaining about this or that individual is even more of a detriment, and only serves to diminish you further in the eyes of your superiors and co-workers.  Just as a long suffering parent dismisses the argument of a spoiled child in the midst of a temper-tantrum, so too will professional colleagues dismiss your concerns after they have beheld you in the throes of a heated rant.  Worst of all, your chances for promotion are marginalized when you engage in such inappropriate behavior, as few — if any — upper-management positions are earned by those who are known as serial cry-babies! (Congress being the exception.)

Final Thoughts

Patience and professionalism in business are not always easy.  This is especially true when you are first starting out in a field, and are apt to make mistakes.  Some people may not be empathetic regarding your inexperience, and may even call you to task with open hostility.  But remember that it is never a good idea to retaliate in kind, as this will only serve to diminish you further.

In your professional life, always carry yourself with dignity and treat others with respect — even when they don’t extend you the same courtesy.  Focus on doing the best job that you possibly can, taking setbacks in stride.  Surround yourself with positive and highly motivated people when possible, who challenge you to excel in new ways.

Most importantly: take joy in the work you are doing!  There are few things that compare to the feeling of satisfaction derived from a job well done, and this is true for every field — be it fast food service, warehouse operations, skilled trades, education, medicine, corporate management, or professional athletics.

Patience and professionalism foster success. (Graphic by 'geralt')
Patience and professionalism foster success.

In whatever career you choose remember that you are out there doing your part, contributing in a positive way to the turning gears of a complex societal mechanism — and not just wasting away while the world passes you by!  There is honor in that, and in you.  As such, conduct yourself with the self-respect that is worthy of an honorable individual, and be always patient and professional in your business dealings.

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Resources

  1. Resolving workplace conflict [Internet]. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado – FSAP (Faculty and Staff Assistance Program); [cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from: https://hr.colorado.edu/fsap/healthtips/Pages/Resolving-Workplace-Conflict.aspx
  2. Johnson, R. Key reasons for job dissatisfaction and poor employee performance [Internet]. Houston, TX: The Houston Chronicle – Small Business;[cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from: http://smallbusiness.chron.com/key-reasons-job-dissatisfaction-poor-employee-performance-25846.html
  3. State of the American Workplace 2013 [Internet]. Washington, DC: Gallup;[cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from: http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/163007/state-american-workplace.aspx
  4. Notte, J. The high cost of job dissatisfaction [Internet]. Redmond, WA: MSN;2013 Jun 13 [cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from: http://money.msn.com/now/blog–the-high-cost-of-americans-job-dissatisfaction
  5. Hayes, J. Workplace conflict and how businesses can harness it to thrive [Internet]. Menlo Park, CA: CPP Inc. Available from: http://img.en25.com/Web/CPP/Conflict_report.pdf
  6. Beeson, J. Dealing with a bad boss [Internet]. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review; 2012 Jun 28 [cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from:http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/06/dealing-with-a-bad-boss/

Photo Credits

  1. ‘Workplace conflict leads to overall job dissatisfaction’. Source: ‘Frustrated man at a desk’ by ‘LaurMG.’, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. 2011 May 24 [cited 2014 Mar 18]. Available from:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frustrated_man_at_a_desk.jpg
  2. ‘Rise and Shine!’ Source: ‘alarm clock bought from IKEA’ by ‘Evil saltine‘, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. 2003 Nov 25 [cited 2014 Mar 17]. Available from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Windup_alarm_clock.jpg
  3. ‘Workplace conflict.’ Source: ‘Arguing with myself’ by Leonid Mamchenkov,CC-BY 2.0, via Flickr. 2007 Jan 20 [cited 2014 Mar 18]. Available from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamchenkov/363542398/
  4. ‘Someone at work getting you fired up?’ Source: ‘Giant prominence on the sun erupted’ as photographed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Public Domain. 2012 Aug 31 [cited 2014 Mar 18]. Available from: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/rbsp/news/third-belt.html#.UyhTt_ldVjY
  5. ‘Patience and professionalism foster success’. Source: ‘Office Business Businessmen Shaking Hands Handshake’ by ‘geralt‘, Public Domain, via Pixabay. Cited 2014 Mar 18. Available from: http://pixabay.com/en/office-business-businessmen-227746/
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