Frictionless Fantasy

The last few weeks have included calls that have a theme to them.  It goes something like this:

  1. I’ve got friction in my life at work.
  2. It is making me unhappy.
  3. Hiding out is not working.

I’m oversimplifying for the sake of example but you get the point, right? Hiding out from friction, conflict, and unpleasantness is not a particularly effective strategy. While it’s true that some things will blow over and everyone will move on, it may not serve you well as an ongoing strategy in dealing with others.

There are definitely ways to constructively manage these conversations. For those who think that friction or conflict at shouldn’t exist, it helps to examine where this idea came from in the first place. It’s a lovely fantasy and I also would like to talk about selling you a bridge when I grow a few more inches — but the reality is that as long as there are people who are not exact replicas of you out there in the world, there are going to be differences of opinion, different perspectives, and different solutions. Even if you are often the ‘smartest person in the room’ you aren’t always the smartest person in the room and it’s possible that some people don’t see you as the smartest person in the room. In fact when people are invited into a room, they often think they are among the smartest in the room as well.

There are many ways to solve problems, view situations, and accomplish tasks. There are a  wide variety of interpersonal styles, personalities, management approaches and lots of ways to define success and successful outcomes. so if you buy that this is true – let’s look at how we space between these differences can get smaller so tht people can come to a viable resolution.

I don’t usually advocate hiding out unless there is no good reason to talk about the disagreement. If you’ve been told that a topic is not up for discussion, don’t try to discuss it. However, being told not to discuss topics of importance repeatedly can be a very good topic to bring up for discussion.

Talking to other people about the conflict may be a way for you to get input or a reality check, but it can only help you if you are working on creating a strategy to be used with the actual person who may be involved. At some point, talking about problems actually become another problem.

I think there are a few things to remember when you shine a light on interpersonal friction or disagreement. If you are going to point out where you disagree, make sure to point out where you DO agree.  You are not confronting the person; you are having a conversation about something you disagree on so frame the conversation that way.  Focus on being an ally not a critic – your goal is to resolve the issue. Ask questions so that you can understand how they see things. Logic may not win the day.

And if you difference of view point is with the boss, it can create even more than the usual fear and trepidation. But it does not have to be a career killing more to disagree. Some ideas about how best to discuss alternative perspectives:

Stay calm and check the emotions at the door. People can disagree without being disagreeable

Focus on the action and the impact. Make it about the issue not the person/your boss.

Disagree in private. No one wants to be embarrassed publicly.

Ask a lot of questions so that you clearly understand how they see things. You may learn that you are not as far apart on things as you thought.

Be clear about what you don’t agree with. It’s hard to resolve ‘fuzzy issues.

Offer an alternative. Only a better idea can replace the first idea.

No one can read your mind – not even your boss.

Disagree and move forward.  You won’t win them all and undermining things at work is unprofessional. Remember that the boss not only has the final word, carrying on the debate after it has essentially ended is potentially damaging for you.

Managing interpersonal differences is very challenging. We all have the scars to prove how badly people can handle them. But we could be the people who handle them well.

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