We all like it when things go our way. This holds to be especially true for things related to our career.
Whether we sit at a desk or run from one job site to the next—we like to get things done with minimal pushback.
Making that seemingly out-of-reach deal, completing that long task list, or delivering on a promise made to an important client gives us an understandable sense of accomplishment.
It is normal to draw a degree of significance and pride from what we accomplish in the workday.
But along with the victories and wins at work—we are bound to experience a number of defeats. Challenges and conflict are a normal part of any business—and they come from all directions.
What then do we do when things at work are not going well?
How should we respond to the inevitable conflict with our colleagues, clients, or even boss?
Does Conflict at Work Have to Spell Disaster?
Often, the presence of conflict in the workplace lets us know that a difficult conversation is more than likely needed.
However, if you are like most people, your “knee-jerk” reaction is to avoid the conflict.
Because of previous experiences, the mindset for most people is that conflict in the workplace is a bad thing.
I get it.
Difficult conversations, by their very nature, carry with them risk and a slew of hard to manage negative emotions. Add a few bad experiences with conflict into the mix, and avoidance may seem like the most reasonable response out there.
I can assure you—it isn’t.
If responded to correctly, conflict in the workplace can actually position you for success.
We Are Not Trained to Have Difficult Conversations
It is hard to have difficult conversations at work. It is even harder when you have to initiate them.
When we are talking about our careers—when we are talking about whether or not we are going to get a raise or our next big work assignment—it doesn’t seem worth the risk to have the conversation.
You could have been first in your class at college, be an incredible CPA, and have a partnership in the firm—but have no training in how to have difficult conversations. You were taught how to build an incredible career track, but given little insight on how to listen, or the power of belief systems that drive our emotions.
The reality is—there are just not that many people skilled at the art and science of difficult conversations.
When a lot of people (unskilled at difficult conversations) work in close proximity with one another, it isn’t surprising that conflict occurs.
Why Difficult Conversations in the Workplace Are A Good Thing
Experience is a good teacher—but let’s take a minute to analyze what the experience of avoiding difficult conversations has taught us.
What happens when we are not willing to have difficult conversations at work?
We experience frayed relationships, ineffective teams, poor teamwork, poor problem solving, and ultimately—bad situations not being corrected.
All of this because we are not able to talk about what we really need to talk about.
So what would happen if we became skilled and effective at difficult conversations in the workplace?
When we initiate difficult conversations with the frame of strengthening the working relationship, we remove additional strain from the system and problems get solved.
Strengthening a work relationship doesn’t mean that you have to be friends, or even necessarily enjoy being in the same room. It does mean you are committed to working with them effectively.
If there is organizational clarity, defined roles, and responsibilities, and we are able to talk about what we need to talk about (even when there is a strain in the conversation), we will not only become much more effective in the workplace—we will accomplish the goals of our organization.
Having difficult conversations in the workplace positions you and your organization for success.
Effective conflict resolution produces high-performing teams.
It produces individuals who can put a problem on the table in order to dialogue around potential contributing factors and solutions.
It creates an environment where people are not afraid to admit when they are wrong while at the same time, willing to hold others accountable for their own actions.
In my years of consulting, I have encountered many bright people in dynamic leadership roles. Their problem is not that they don’t have the intelligence to figure out the solutions for a given roadblock. Their problem is often that they are avoiding the difficult conversations needed to get all of the puzzle pieces on the table.
There is so much change in the marketplace. With technological advancements and an unstable global economy, not to mention the shifting of generations and political environments—no wonder it feels like the ground is constantly shifting under our feet.
You may be effective at your current business model, but are you able to stay on top of the changes? Are you able to respond to and incorporate everything that is coming at you and your company?
In a highly competitive marketplace, we have to become better than our competition quicker. We cannot afford to become stagnant.
Again, you may be effective now, but how you respond to the conflict and disruption present in the changes that are coming will determine the future success of your organization.
If you are not becoming better than your competitor in a quicker fashion—you are losing ground.
Difficult conversations are crucial to the ability of an organization to respond to all of the change that is coming at it.
Let me give you a great example of this.
A while back, I was hired by a CPA firm in the South. There were many strong personalities working within the organization, and my client wanted coaching on how to effectively have the much needed difficult conversations springing up with his new partnership position.
In the midst of working with this firm, a major hurricane devastated their state. My client, in the aftermath of the hurricane, suggested that their accounting firm place a bid to help FEMA track the donations collected and allocated for the rebuilding of the state.
Because of the magnitude of this project, and the known issues that are present with this type of disaster relief fund allocation, most of the partners were against the idea.
I took the opportunity to suggest to the partners that instead of shutting the door to the proposal immediately, use it as a platform to practice the skill of difficult conversations.
They wrestled with the risks. They wrestled with the benefits. The process moved slowly. But after bringing all of the information to the table—they built a business model that would serve the needs of FEMA with high technological capability and high touches as it related to the political world.
Because of their ability to effectively have difficult conversations, they put in a proposal that became the “prototype” and high-water mark for how FEMA moved forward in other states. It was an amazing success.
Without the ability to have a difficult conversation, the firm would have never been able to work through this conflict. The proposal would have never been attempted.
Conflict in the workplace can be a good thing. Having those difficult conversations not only position you for success, they have the potential to produce something that can catapult your organization to the next level.
These are just a few insights that will help you navigate those critical conversations in your life and career, but there’s so much more.
There are powerful tools that can really help you become more effective, and we at Ember Learning are here to help. With over 25 years of professional consulting in top businesses around the country, we want to share some of our top insights with you.
Download our FREE PDF “15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue” now!