Conflict management in the work place?

This is not going to be your average boring article I promise. I shoot from the hip and tell it like it is because most people do not speak openly and honestly. Why? They do not want to be seen as a trouble maker, but there are some issues and topics that need to be discussed in an open forum. Those of you who do not like honesty, and do not like confrontation, this is probably not for you. If you want to understand and deal with conflict in a manner which could produce a win-win solution, then this is for you.

How many times have you been in the room working and there is that one person who seems to get on your last nerves. In your mind, you are thinking, will they ever shut up? How do they talk so much? They have got to be the worse employee ever! How did they ever get hired? They are so stupid! In addition to these thoughts going through your head, the gossiping starts. Who are they talking about? Are they talking about me? Worse, you are caught in the middle of the gossiping. He is the worst supervisor ever! How many times have you had someone tell you to watch your back, or they tell you to stay away from that person. These are real issues, with real people. I hope many of you are laughing, because you can relate to the issues I have presented, but you can see there are serious problems that need to be addressed.
Now that I have got your attention, let’s talk about it. In reality, emergency services is without a doubt one of the worse places for gossip, high divorce rates, and disgruntled employees. I know you are thinking, “This guy has lost his mind!” We work long hours with the same people, there are bound to be problems. The public expects us to be held to a higher standard, and our actions on duty and off, can make us look like hero or a zero. The job is stressful enough, and many times we bring our personal feelings to work. We blame others for the way we feel about our job, poor performance, or problems at work. I will be the first to admit I have done all these things. If you are looking for a cookie cutter approach to conflict resolution you are wrong. There is not one, and all the management classes in world are not going to teach you effectively how to handle employees and co-workers.
One of my classmates was the second oldest active Navy SEAL. When I found out, we started talking about his career. One of the first things he ever said to me about being a SEAL, dealt with humility. Here was this man, who still holds most of the PT records mind you, 6’0, at least 225 pounds, well spoken and educated, speaking about humility. He said, “if you can’t be humble, what can you be?” He didn’t think twice about it. He was one of the few SEAL’s who started in the enlisted ranks and moved up to get his commission. Now 33 years later, he is still humble regardless of his accomplishments.
What’s my point? Many times we forget we all make mistakes, and none of us are perfect. Be humble, if someone is struggling offer to help, instead of putting them down. You never know what is happening in their lives. I know you have heard the old saying, “put the shoe on the other foot.” It is hard to put your self in someone else’s situation without knowing all the facts. There are always three sides to every story, their side, your side, and the truth. If you decide to listen to someone, keep the conversation to yourself. Trust is hard to come by, but it is easy to destroy. Gossip is the number one killer of trust in the workplace along with lying.
When I am in public, I always treat people the way I want to be treated, which was with respect and dignity. However, I could have cared less about my co-workers and their personal issues. I was so busy being mad because I felt unappreciated and undervalued, I let my own weaknesses and faults consume me. Instead of taking control of my situation, I blamed others, and I stayed mad all the time. Because people didn’t really know me they assumed I had a chip on my shoulder. In reality, I am fortunate to have done a lot of things, stay healthy and physically fit, and I am a naturally confident person. However, I never accepted responsibility for my past, and it caused me to see others as being below me. It wasn’t until I accepted my own faults, could I start not to judge others. Don’t get me wrong, there are people you cannot please or get along with no matter what you do. Just avoid those people, remain professional, and mind your own business. What I should have been doing is treating people the way they want to be treated. If you don’t know, ask, most people will appreciate the kind gesture.
Take the time to know the people you work with because it lets them know you are interested in them. You might build long-lasting relationships, and you never know what will happen in the future. The most important aspect of these relationships is it builds teamwork, respect, and understanding of each others weaknesses and strengths. I cannot stress the importance of trust in the work place. Without it, there is nothing and it causes a lot of problems which could be avoided. Never lie to a co-worker or supervisor. There are some things people do not want to talk about or discuss. Respect their decision and do not judge them. Again, there is always three sides to every story. The same holds true for supervisors. There is nothing worse than being written up without being interviewed or having all the facts. I have been there. It is the most aggravating thing in the world because instead of discussing the issues, you are having to defend yourself. In most cases, there was a misunderstanding and it was blown way out of proportion. If you mess up, take responsibility and learn from it.
Every person is different. We come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and cultures. Become open-minded to the way other people interact. Just because you aren’t a talker in the mornings, does not mean everyone in the room has to be that way. Some people just like to talk and interact. Keep your thoughts to yourself. If you have nothing positive to say, then keep it to your self. Negativity and distrust is the root of under minding teamwork. Whenever someone is being negative, walk away. If you stay in the conversation you will be the subject of rumors and gossip.
Use the chain of command and keep detailed records, times, dates, and facts of issues. This will cover you incase something is ever brought up again. Make sure to use the chain of command first, if all else fails go to human resources as a last resort. Hostile work environments are looked down upon, but you better make sure you have the facts. There are people who are very vindictive and will do anything they can to get you fired. Make sure you are following GOG’s and SOP’s. If your supervisor asks you to fix something then fix it. If you are having a problem with a co-worker, ask to sit down with them, with a supervisor present, and discuss the issues. You may find out there is a simple misunderstanding, at the very least you will know what is going on. Explain the problem to them in a way they fully understand. Be very specific about their actions, how it affects you, and why it affects you.
Many of you will disagree, but it will save you a lot of heart ache down the road if you keep your private relationships outside of work. In other words, do not date a co-worker. It has the potential to cause so many problems not only between the two of you, but it puts your co-workers and supervisors in a position that will ultimately not be good for either one of you. We work long hours together, and I understand relationships will develop, if at all possible, be good friends. I have seen too many career’s ruined over poor decisions because of this issue.
In conclusion, there is no magical formula for conflict resolution. The ideas presented are common sense approaches to conflict management in the work place, but you would be amazed how many times we forget the simple things. Our job is very stressful and we must rely on each other to remain positive, push forward, and have someone to lean on in difficult times. At the end of the day, it is all about trust, respect, and humility.

About PhDMedic

I have a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, with a concentration in International Peace and Conflict, and I am a National Registry Paramedic with 30 years in emergency services as a provider and educator. View all posts by PhDMedic

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