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Work wars: 5 tips for holding your own in an office conflict - and when to let it go

Pick your battles, and you’ll have a far better chance of winning.

Image: Shutterstock

AH, DIPLOMACY! THAT great bastion of workplace politics that, once mastered, can help you wrangle your way around even the most difficult of co-workers.

There are many articles and books available that will advise you on ways to solve conflict and ease tension in the workplace, and most of them will advocate for a diplomatic approach.

But that doesn’t mean you should be a doormat, and there are occasions when standing up for what you believe in is the only viable course of action. Here’s how to do it without getting fired…

 1. First, clean up your act

This is obvious, but can be challenging to maintain. If you’re having ongoing difficulties with a superior, you can’t afford to be on the back foot when you address them because they’ll have you on a technicality.

“Redraw the lines of what is acceptable and what is not, but within the ‘rules’ of the company itself,” says Jill Walker in her book, Is Your Boss Mad?

2. Respond, don’t react

shutterstock_664505002 Source: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot

Emer Johnson (35), knew she needed to take action when the terms of her employment changed almost overnight.

“In my last job, a large part of what attracted me to the role was being able to work autonomously, with the option to work from home when I needed to.

“About a year into my job, however, there was a gear shift in the company that resulted in a huge tightening up of staff activity. A company-wide clock-in, clock-out type system was introduced. My line manager was fairly unrepentant about my hours.”

Having addressed the issue with her direct line manager to no avail, Emer took the next logical step for her…

3. Go higher

“In the end I went over my manager’s head,” Emer says. She requested a meeting with the Company Director, who had initially hired her.

“I laid out my cards, reminding him that he had headhunted me. In the end the he agreed and asked me what I wanted to happen to make the role work for me again.

 Which brings us to perhaps the most important piece of information you need when heading into unchartered territory like this…

4. Know your value

shutterstock_721362619 Source: Shutterstock/mirtmirt

Importantly, Emer says she was fully aware of her value within the company.

I stuck to my guns with a reasonable conversation about why I was unhappy and suggestions of how to fix it the problem. I suggested that maybe the role was turning into something I wasn’t interested in.

Emer’s says her superior “pretty much jumped out of his seat” at the suggestion that she might leave.

“It’s worth remembering that having a job is a two-way street. A lot of the time, your boss needs you just as much as you need them.”

5. Know when to give up the ghost

“I do think a lot of the time you need to suck stuff up in work,” Emer admits.

“But if there’s an ongoing situation that makes you think about leaving an otherwise great position, it’s worth having the talk. If your boss’s general attitude is indifference or unwillingness to hear you out, that’s your cue to leave.”

Sometimes, of course, it’s best to swallow your pride and just let your boss or co-workers have the win.

shutterstock_722865823 Source: Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com

Here are three of those occasions:

1. When experience trumps opinion

You may feel 100 per cent certain that if you submit the proposal your boss has suggested, you will not win that new contract. Or if you don’t give refunds on unworn items you’ll lose customers.

Unless you work in a field where the consequences are literally life or death, just let it go. You may feel that your decision is infinitely better, but when you’re in the boss’s chair, you can make that call.

Until then, learn to say, ‘I absolutely agree!’ with as much enthusiasm as you can muster.

2. When the problem is personal

You and your co-worker have clashed from the beginning and everyone can see it. He says black, you say white. It can become a real problem when you move into the realm of actively disliking your colleagues.

Your judgement may become clouded to the point where you’re disagreeing with a perfectly reasonable request or picking holes in a piece of feedback just because you’ve gotten so used to not liking what they have to say to you.

If personal issues are causing more than passing irritation between you and your co-worker, it’s probably time to address them on an appropriate level.

3. When you’re unquestionably in the wrong

You know that horrible feeling when you realise you’ve made a mistake? Suck it up and get on with the work. Apologise if you have to. Accept defeat with dignity and learn to keep your eyes on the prize.

Little wins give you an instant dopamine fix – but when your company or team is doing well and you’re seen as a team player who makes an important contribution, your chances to impress and, ultimately, become the boss yourself, are greatly increased.

More: ‘Life is one big negotiation, after all’ – How I got my job as a world-class mediator>

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