Conflict In The Workplace

Dear Management Doctor:

I have been trying to find an article that appeared in the employment section of our local paper that talked about the usefulness of appropriate conflict in the workplace. I tried to Google the topic, with no luck. Does that sound familiar to you?

Nancy Brown, FAICP
Walters State Community College
Morristown, TN

Dear Nancy,

The article you referred to does not ring a bell. Let’s see if one of our readers caught it. I did Google “conflict in the workplace” and found lots of good material. There are a few articles on our search page that also may be of use including:

Some conflict in the organization can be very useful. In fact, an organization with no turmoil may be in trouble. Like stress, the issue is separating out good conflict from bad and learning how to handle the good conflict. Suggestions include:
  • Conflict should be resolved at early stages, don’t let it fester.
  • Conflict of ideas or procedures can be healthy. What is needed is a collaborative way to discuss and resolve the conflicts. Traditional team building ideas here may help.
  • However, direct personal conflict between people is not useful, i.e., “a personality clash.” Solving this may require personal counseling, separating people or deselecting an employee.
One of the Google articles I saw suggested:
  • Try to stick to the issue in all dealings. This will encourage the other person to do the same.
  • Appreciate that other people have different opinions that are just as valid as yours.
  • Work out whether the issue really means that much to you, or whether your dislike for the other person has hardened your stance.
  • Decide that your aim is to solve the problem, rather than win the argument. Be prepared to compromise.
  • Push aside feelings or judgments about the other person, and try hard to listen and understand their point of view.
  • Get others to mediate.

The Management Doctor 

Reader Response

There was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch November, 4 & 5 dealing with a new employee's constant whistling. Is that perhaps what Nancy is seeking?

Kevin Limestall
City of Highland

(Below is a reprint of the article from the McClatchy-Tribune News Service)

An annoying neighbor calls for self-control

Byline/Title: By Marie G. McIntyre
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
c2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

PublishDate: Sunday, 11/12/2006
Sections: Business
Editions: Fourth Edition
Page: E2

I have a new co-worker who keeps whistling loudly near my desk. I asked him to tone it down, but he wouldn't stop. I asked my supervisor to address the issue, but she completely blew me off. Although I have gone to the company president and submitted a formal complaint to human resources, the loud whistling has continued. As a result, I am now taking medication for migraine headaches. My nerves are on edge every day, and I am completely stressed out. What do I do next? Get a lawyer and file harassment charges?

This relatively minor annoyance obviously has escalated into a serious power struggle. And the whistling guy seems determined not to let you win. If his goal is to upset you, you're delivering exactly the reaction he wants.

Odds are that Whistler is thoroughly enjoying your anger and irritation. So the winning strategy in this game is to stop complaining, ignore his whistling and just smile pleasantly whenever you see him. If necessary, distract yourself with a radio or iPod.

If you maintain your self control, the whistling eventually will decrease. And your headaches probably will disappear as well.

Realistically, the only thing you can control in this situation is your own reaction. You have given this co-worker too much power to affect your life, so you need to take that power back.