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Five Ingredients to Manage Office Differences

November 6, 2012

Evan Roth, Executive Director of Organizational Effectiveness and Chief Learning Officer, Nelnet, Inc.

For those who went to traditional college, do you remember what it was like sharing a room with your new roommate during your freshman year?  For most people, it was an amazing discovery into the nuances of another person’s life and experiences—-or not.  What preparation did you receive for sharing daily life with someone who you didn’t know at all?  The next closest experience might have been sharing a room with a sibling, and the advantage was that we knew the person growing up and we would have a relationship with them for the rest of our lives. So the reality of dealing with someone we don’t know at all can be quite an adjustment.

It’s similar with our office work environment.  We don’t get to choose who we work with nor do we grow up with them.  So, mix in a batch of differing work and communication styles, add a nice smattering of attitude and ego, sift in a few tablespoons of stress and deadlines and what can pop up?  Conflict!

I’ve yet to run across an office handbook that guides office workers in dealing with conflict.  That is probably a good thing.  Given the variety of ingredients that combine to create conflict, let’s take a look at 5 ways that conflict can be managed and handled in constructive ways:

1).  Reframe it!  Most people I know assign a negative connotation to conflict.  Does it need to be that way?  Despite its initial discomfort, conflict can push us into growth, new ways of doing things, and new levels of understanding one another.  What would happen if you reframe the sense of conflict into an opportunity for one of the positive outcomes above?

2).  See(k) Agreement – Actively seek areas where you agree with another party when you are experiencing conflict.  You might be surprised at how much you have in common.  When you see that the current disagreement is a small portion of your work experience with the other person, you realize the disagreement and conflict doesn’t necessarily create relational distance and dysfunction.

3).  Insert civility – We know that our daily lives are influenced by a variety of wide-ranging experiences that make up our own personal journey.  Could it be the person that you are dealing with just got some incredibly bad news?  Is it possible they had a fight with their spouse before coming to work?  Giving people the benefit of the doubt and attempting to understand their experience can inject civility into your approach and discussions.

4). Learn about one another –  Much of the conflict we experience is less about each party intentionally trying to aggravate the other and more about the presence of very different work styles.  I’m amazed at how quickly understanding, empathy, enhanced communication, and listening can happen when teams learn about one another.  As teams use assessments and tools like Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Predictive Index, Strengthsfinders (among many others), they add to their understanding of personality “drivers” and increase their capability to “get along” and to value differences in others.

5). Step away from your “position” – Conflicts frequently emerge from entrenched positions, which often mask underlying interests related to self-preservation or fear.  A favorite question to ask my clients is “would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  Think about that one.  It tends to focus people on the long-term of how they want to show up in life, which battles are worth fighting, and focuses them on their choices vs. the other person’s behaviors.

For those that would like to move toward mastery of conflict, I highly recommend the book Crucial Confrontations.  See you next month with another dive into improving your office environment.

Evan Roth is a Certified Executive Coach, Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner, and a C level executive. He enjoys helping people thrive in the corporate world. You can find him at

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 16, 2012 8:48 am

    I really like your articles, Evan. Keep ’em coming!!

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