This is a guest post by Alan Chatfield from the Life's Too Good blog
“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” ~ Jonothan Kozol
In the complex & fast paced modern corporate world, conflict is pretty much an inevitability. So perhaps it's more useful instead of looking at how to avoid conflict, looking at how you deal with conflict situations. If we accept that conflict is going to come your way during your career, then knowing how and when to react could prove invaluable.
A Gladiator Or The Nicest Guy On The Planet?
You guessed it … neither.
If you fight your corner every time you encounter conflict, this could be extremely draining on you in terms of your energy levels and workload, furthermore it could have damaging repercussions to your career.
If you give in every single time at the first sign of conflict, that perhaps is not the best option either as you may become known as a push-over, you may get on with your colleagues but will probably struggle to advance quickly through the ranks of management (if that's what you want to do).
So knowing when and how to react can be very useful indeed.
Case Study – The badly behaved Project Manager
As a relatively young project manager, I had a fairly rocky relationship with another project manager who I often came up against in conflict situations. This was mainly due to our respective projects having conflicts rather than anything personal. Unfortunately this often became something a little more personal than it should as we were both (in hindsight) too close to our projects and lacking in objectivity. We both wanted our own projects to succeed and ended up fighting each other on several occasions when the projects competed for resources, had dependencies on each other or in any number of other situations where the proximity of our projects meant we had to work together to try and find compromises.
The other project manager, let's call him Dave, was older than me and quite quick-witted. He was extremely good at having answers for everything and a lot of arguments with Dave were quite difficult as he was very adept at coming up with very logical sounding reasons why I or my project should accommodate him/his and not the other way around. He was also very good at being quite loud and embarrassing others in meetings. Knowing this, and actually getting on quite well with Dave away from work (or even at work whenever we didn't have to work closely together), I was able to avoid any big conflicts but I always had to be very careful around Dave. After one meeting where he swore a lot at another project manager and behaved in a rather unruly manner, I asked him quietly if he didn't think he was being a little over the top in the meeting and how he got away with it. Dave laughed it off and told me that he basically knew how to pick his battles.
I wouldn't say that Dave was an absolute master at picking his battles because he did get in a little bother later on in his career, but he at least knew the concept of picking his battles. He knew enough to try and think about when and how to react to different situations – i.e. that it was not in every meeting that it was appropriate to shoot his mouth off, put people on the spot and challenge or embarrass others. In more senior management meetings he certainly tended to keep quite schtumm.
Picking your battles is not just about conserving your energy, it is also about avoiding building yourself the wrong kind of reputation and about a certain degree of stakeholder management.
In the example above, the project manager, Dave, could afford to be aggressive in that particular meeting because of his position relative to other attendees in the room. If someone more senior had been introduced into the meeting, his behaviour would have been quite different.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
In the corporate environment having a good sense for when to make a stand and when to be congenial is a very very valuable skill to have indeed. This is because others observe and are influenced by your behaviour. Especially in the extremes. If you have a really big argument with someone in front of others, chances are this will be gossiped about. If you are generally very diplomatic and downplay everything almost all of the time, then a small reaction may carry a lot of weight purely because the people who know you would be expecting no reaction at all.
It is up to your judgement in relation to your working environment to decide when and how to react, but think about who is in the room, think about what you have to gain by reacting in different ways to different types of conflict Think about who your key stakeholders are and even if they are not there, is there anyone there who might talk to them? What do you want them to feed back?
Stay in control of your reactions and pick your battles.
If you do lose control, at least be sensible enough to make it at a time where it won't be a career limiting decision…
You can find Alan at Life’s Too Good, a blog about helping you get more out of your life and your business. Alan is also a writer and you can actually watch him write his latest book, ‘Lessons From The City’ at a new site he just created: www.lessonsfromthecity.com. Follow Alan on twitter at @LTGMonkey.
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