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Dysfunction 41: Not being ready for conflict

Some people are arseholes with a capital R and cause friction, arguments and problems where ever they go, even at work.


Conflict at work is horrible. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I’ve never been any good dealing with it.

When it happens I panic on the inside, blush on the outside and loose the ability to think quickly or articulate myself on the spot. A little fart comes out sometimes too. I often end up dwelling on it for some time afterwards and replay it over and over again in my mind. The whole thing is uncomfortable.

Floating along in an optimistic bubble of belief that no-one is going to disagree, challenge, or berate you is dysfunctional.

Looking back retrospectively I think being unprepared is the route cause of my fear.

At work, wherever possible I like to be prepared and have a pre-considered response to questions that may come up. But not having thought about or prepared for being challenged leads to panic when it happens. And naturally it’s going to happen at some point.

In order to prepare myself to deal with conflict situations better in the future here’s 3 stock responses that I’ve decided to use. So when conflict arises, I can focus on making a quick choice about which one is appropriate, rather than focusing on the discomfort I’m feeling.

They are deliberately short and direct to avoid ambiguity, and to be easy to remember.

They may not always be appropriate, and may not always have the desired impact, but just having these in my back pocket makes me feel better prepared for conflict, should it arise. I want to share them in the hope they may be of some benefit. Feel free to try them.

Option 1 : Park and come back later

“I’d like to talk about this more, but not now. Let’s pick this up later*.”

This gives you some space to breathe and collect your thoughts. It also gives you some control over when and where the re-match continues.

*Specify ‘later’ as quickly as you can.

Option 2: Seek clarity / Find the route cause

“I’d like to understand your question / concern / assumptions better, can we explore this further?”

Although you may find yourself a target, don’t assume you’re the cause of the upset. If you have the confidence, take time to be curious to really understand where it’s coming from. We are all humans and often carry emotion and feeling with us for some time before letting it out. It may simply be bad timing that you are getting the brunt of someone’s upset.

Option 3. Shut it down

“This is not something I’m prepared to discuss.”

If it’s not relevant, appropriate or professional shut it down and don’t explain or apologise for this. They will know they overstepped the mark.

While we’re at it, here’s 3 things you should definitely not to do in a conflict situation.

Not an option: Crying 

Trust me, it happens (but I’d had a particularly challenging day).

Not an option: Lashing out

If you respond with harsh words, become defensive and/or judgemental then the problem will only magnify.

Not an option: Doing nothing

Conflict situations arise for a plethora of reasons, but there must be a reason. Not reacting at all is not going to make it go away. The situation needs to be dealt with either now or later, or it needs to be closed. Hoping it will go away on it’s own is not a good strategy. Action beats inaction every time.

Good luck.

Don’t let the bastards drag you down

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