Layman’s Advice for Dealing With Professional Conflicts

Everyone listen up: We all have professional differences. They may come about because of a difference in experience, cultural upbringing, knowledge of subject area, or many other reasons. Since we Millennials as a whole are still fairly young, most of these conflicts will occur with the Millennial as the party who is being told what to do, and a Generation X, Boomer, or even a member of the Greatest Generation giving instruction.

However, we Millennials, despite our inexperience and penchant for impatience, are not always wrong when it comes to office conflict resolution. We understand digital technology better than any generation. In fact, I am of those who don’t remember a time when I did not have internet access, even if it was by dial-up through Prodigy on an old-school Apple computer.

This leaves us ahead of our supervisors in one important aspect, but curious in another: conflict resolution. Because we have always relied on word processing platforms, email, and text messages a way to distance the facts of our words from the emotions of our words, we have a totally different perspective on how interpersonal conflicts can and should be dealt with.

After all, almost all of us have broken up with someone via text message, but none of us would resign from our job in that way, right?

Anyways, I recently found myself in a situation that was clearly and consistently in violation of my company’s corporate policies. My manager asked me to complete a task, the goal of which was only my manager’s own personal benefit. I do not want to give out many details, but what she was asking was the professional equivalent of asking me to do her laundry.

I want to be clear. Despite the fact that I work for a large non-profit that operates in all fifty states, a supervisor thought it was copacetic that she order me to consistently complete tasks that benefitted her personally and not the large non-profit as whole. I knew from the beginning that this was not okay, but I could never find the proper forum in which I could express my thoughts about the incorrectness of this situation.

Despite considerable reflection on my part, I can’t say why I let this problem fester. It occurred for almost a full year, and I let it continue in the hopes that either it would go away or that someone more superior to me would recognize it without me saying anything.

But, from this issue, I have gleaned a few take-away’s that apply elsewhere, outside of my situation.

1. If it feels like it is in violation of your company’s professional policies, it likely is.Listen, every organization has a very specific professional culture to which they employ a ton of resources to assimilate you. If you are at a big organization, this rule will be easier to follow than if you are at a smaller one. The point is: Overall, the organization for which you work will make an effort to create a specific professional culture, and if a task you are given does not jibe with the overall vision of the culture, you will just feel it. Make note of the instance in which you feel this disconnect.

2. Peers may recognize this disconnect, but they may not feel sufficiently empowered to address it. Listen– 90% of your coworkers maintain their jobs because they need to. Whether it’s because they want to pay their child’s college tuition, whether they need to feel victorious, or because they would default on their student loans if they didn’t, most people work not because they want to “change the world”, as you do, but rather because it provides the means to have the life they envision is a happy one.

Because of this, coworkers may clearly recognize a problem with the operational structure of the office and do nothing to address it. Sometimes, people would rather just put their heads down and strive for the every-two-week paycheck instead of striving to make the office operate as efficiently as possible, as you may hope they would.

Point is: you might be the only one in your office with nothing to lose. Therefore, you might be the only one in your office with the courage to recognize and address a major problem. Don’t let this stop you.

3. Do not waiver when the problem is elevated to and addressed by someone in your professional hierarchy with whom you would not typically interact.

As the result of an improper assignment of tasks, I had to delineate details of a professional assignment to my company’s chief operations officer, a person with whom I would not normally interact, someone who is infinitely higher above me in our corporate structure.

Going into the conversation with the COO, I was nervous, as any entry-level employee would feel in a similar situation.

However, in the end, I think my own professional honesty benefited me more than anything else could have.

I told the truth and did not embellish.

It was decided that the issue between myself and my supervisor was a one-sided disagreement in which my supervisor was in the wrong.

My company’s human resource department and my company’s COO believed me. They did so because the details of my account of the incident were honest and true.

When you think you thought about an incident from every angle, when you’ve given your supervisor every benefit of the doubt, and you still feel… like a victim— this is the point at which you should raise the issue with your company’s human resources department or with someone more senior than yourself. You should not waiver in your resolve.

Because, sometimes your manager, due to a million different circumstances, may not understand the whole context of a situation, and this may result in a small but not insignificant professional dispute.

And in those situations, you need to trust yourself and protect yourself.

While it is difficult to do so, you have to have this courage.

Doing so drags your organization forward.

More importantly, it keeps you from feeling bullied.

Isn’t that important to you?

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