By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
Conflict is a natural part of life. People will not agree all the time and that can be considered healthy.
But when someone allows a negative situation to kill another person’s happiness, that is unhealthy. If unchecked, workplace conflict will drain employees’ enthusiasm for their jobs.
You can’t control another person’s attitude, but you can control your own. Therefore, you should work on minimizing how someone else’s attitude and actions affect you.
A workplace conflict situation is out of control when one or both of you experience resentment, jealousy or prolonged anger, all of which can lead to bitterness. When you hold on to these feelings, it is time to forgive. Yes, you must forgive your co-workers and let the negative situation go.
Why is forgiveness necessary? I’m sure you have heard the expression, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” That’s okay. Sometimes, we need to remember so we can reflect on the situation and make every effort not to allow it to occur again.
It is also important to forgive the other person and move on. It doesn’t matter if the offender accepts your apology or if you feel that the other person should apologize to you. The act of forgiveness is to heal you – so you can allow the situation to end and not be a dark cloud hovering over your head.
Prolonged Bitterness at Work Has Negative Results on Your Emotional Well-Being
There are individuals who like to hold on to the pain and allow the hurt to convert into bitterness. Is it worth it? According to Dr. Leon Seltzer, a psychologist whose specialties include anger management, bitterness carries a high price tag. He says fallout from holding on to anger could:
- Prolong your mental and emotional pain.
- Lead to long-lasting anxiety and emotional pain.
- Precipitate vengeful acts that put you at further risk for being hurt or victimized, and possibly engulf you in a self-defeating cycle of “getting even.”
- Prevent you from living in the present.
- Create an attitude of distrust and cynicism.
Talking Out Workplace Pain Is Therapeutic
A few years ago, while I was teaching an ethics class, we spent a week talking about forgiveness and how it relates to the workplace. We talked especially about harboring resentment against a boss, a team member or the organization. The students were candid and shared personal experiences that had transferred into their work lives.
It was fascinating to see how strangers in an online learning environment helped one another to get past the pain. For most, all they needed was to talk out the situation with someone who was not part of the problem.
If you find yourself in that situation but without the support system that the classroom provided, consider adopting the five-step plan of action developed by James J. Messina, Ph.D. He developed a five-step process, which includes:
- Identifying the source (root cause) of your bitterness and what the person did to evoke that feeling in you.
- Developing a new way of looking at your past, present and future, especially as it relates to how the negative situation has affected your life.
- Writing a detailed letter to the individual describing what happened and how it made you feel. Once you have written the letter, tear it up and let the hurt go.
- Visualizing what your life would be like if you didn’t have the bitterness.
- Returning to step 1 and repeating this process if you still can’t let go and forgive. Keep trying until you get it right.
Develop a Plan Ahead of Time to Resolve Workplace Conflict
As more businesses promote collaboration and teamwork, consider developing charters at the beginning of the team development process. As you create a foundation for working with one another (roles, responsibilities and meeting deadlines), create a framework for resolving workplace conflict when it arises. Best-selling leadership experts and professional keynote speakers Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick offer the following recommendations:
- Treat each other with respect (challenge the position not the person).
- Listen to one another carefully before responding, and ask for clarification if needed (seek to gather facts; do not jump to conclusions).
- Come to a debate ready to present facts and data (not supposition).
- Don’t frame an argument with what’s fair or what has been done in the past (for every “this is the way we’ve always done it” or “this is fair,” someone else could make a similar argument to the contrary).
- Never use power to make your point (being threatened makes others distrust you and reluctant to share further).
- Remember you are not in a competition to win (debates are opportunities to find the best ideas, be enlightened, and learn—not score points or ram home your points).
- After the team makes a decision collaboratively, support it (even if it wasn’t your idea or there are reservations). Look at it as a learning experience.
Remember, life will go on and you can have a brighter tomorrow free from the burden of the effects of workplace conflict.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.