I want to talk a little today about a subject everyone will face at some point in their working life; conflict in the workplace. This is something that’s become of interest to me lately as I’ve taken on a more senior role in my particular part time job – but it’s something that we must learn to navigate no matter how big your pay cheque is. I want to talk specifically to the students on the net today; as most of us are. If you’re someone who works less than 30 hours a week, then this one is for you.
The corporate world has various opinions in workplace conflict; some view it as constructive and an opportunity for growth, while others see it as somewhat of a disease to be avoided at all costs. Regardless, and I’m sorry to burst your bubble, you’re going to experience conflict at work one day. The trick is understanding where it’s coming from, and how to navigate it so that it is constructive.
Any type of conflict is difficult, but I’m going to introduce a concept to you that I learnt recently that might help you to understand where it comes from. When we’re in conflict with someone, we often objectify them. This means, that instead of thinking about them as a mistake-making human being, we turn them into anything but. You’ll hear yourself thinking (or even talking) about the other person like this: “he’s such a waste of space” or “why are some people so stupid” or worse, “why can’t they see where I’m coming from”. In all of these instances, you take the onus of resolving this conflict from yourself, and give it to the other person. You dehumanise them. You jump inside your box of perfection that no one else can penetrate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve messed up on the job (and sometimes in a big way), and I know you must have too. So, next time you’re angry with someone at work, have a think… Am I sitting inside my box? What was their real intention? Are my actions resolving anything?
The second most important part of conflict resolution is honesty. Never let things go unsaid. Most of the time, (especially as casual and part time employees) we avoid having difficult conversations so that we don’t start fights, or disrupt harmony in the work team. But this is the OPPOSITE of what you need to do. There’s a three phase approach that I always keep in mind when it comes to airing my grievances… First, talk to the person who’s most immediately concerned with the conflict. Give yourselves a chance to work it out quietly. This means that you never become the “dobber”. And they’ll value that you gave them the chance to correct their mistakes. This step is also two phase… You need to be able to take other people’s honesty on board too. Have integrity and be determined to be better. Second, if this doesn’t work, talk to your immediate supervisor. This may be a shift manager, or department manager. Try and avoid going above people’s heads. And finally, when all else has failed and the issue is serious enough, get things put in writing. Most workplaces have a formal grievance process, and you want to make sure you’ve documented everything.
If you’re like me, you’ve worked before as a casual employee and felt that your opinion held little value and so you hide like a mouse in the corner avoiding anyone and anything that might cause a disruption. I’m here to tell you now: STOP IT! I know that if you’re reading this, you’re a person who takes your career, and your reputation seriously, and that means you’ve got a voice and an opinion that should be heard. What you need to focus on doing instead of sitting in the corner (metaphorically of course) is create your value and advertise it to your employer. For me, this has included things like always being well dressed, always doing the cleaning without being asked, turning up early, offering to do the rubbish jobs that no one likes to do, having excellent communication skills… Become someone they would be at a loss without.
And finally, here’s a truth bomb (and I hope it helps someone out there)… DON’T BE SCARED TO QUIT. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying quit every time you dislike a situation at work – but don’t stay in a job where even after you’ve proven your value, you still feel like you’re not worth a dime to those around you. Insidious workplaces are the strongest antidote to your bright light. And let me tell you, your light is one that everyone out there needs to see. You’ve just got to find somewhere it shines the brightest. Even as a part time or casual worker, you deserve to feel like you belong.
Happy new financial year!