Piggy in the middle: how to manage workplace disputes

When you sign the dotted line and begin employment, you believe that your former school days of playground games are over.

The workplace canteen may seem to serve school dinners but this time it is entirely your choice to buy into them. Those scuffed shoes and forgotten jumpers are now your responsibility and teacher’s lessons have been replaced by an air of expectation emitting from your boss. No playground games though. Right?

It’s Monday morning. Staff meeting. Bright eyed and caffeine fuelled, the team assemble enthusiastic about the fresh week ahead. Everything is under control, things are looking good. Colleague A starts ‘work-talk’. Colleague B responds first, eager to be involved.

Colleague A feels threatened; they are wary about Colleague B’s ideas and haven’t quite forgiven them for eating the last piece of office cake last week. Discussion turns to debate and things get heated. Both have good ideas but one needs to be selected. They need an outsider’s opinion. They look at you.

Piggy in the middle. Playground days are back.

 Piggy in the middle. Playground days are back.

I’ve always struggled with being a people pleaser and just reading the scenario above fills me with dread. I remember once being asked my opinion on colour choices for an event flyer after two colleagues I worked closely with had alternative opinions.

I can’t recall either of the choices as my mind flooded with anxiety at the thought of upsetting one by dismissing their suggestion. I loved my job and knew from experience which would be the most appropriate option but the responsibility of the outcome of the dispute made me want to run for the hills. Suddenly my job lost its appeal, not because of the work but because of the atmosphere created by differences in character.

Luckily this dispute was settled easily, but similar situations are a daily occurrence and can have a huge influence on your feelings about your job. More often than not, workplaces are a community of diverse individuals meaning character clashes are inevitable.

Even if you have no direct involvement, atmospheres can quickly become suffocating and fill you with unease. Accepting this fact and learning how to manage yourself when friction occurs is essential to maintain your job-satisfaction and well-being. Luckily, there are numerous resources out there to guide your responses to these difficult situations.

I’ve complied a collection of simple pointers that I hope will be as beneficial to you as they have to me.

Acceptance

Within any team or community the key to success is drawing on the range of skills each member has. to contribute. If everybody was the same then there would be no variation in skills and abilities. Differences will inevitably throw up some tension but accepting that people are not going to agree on everything all of the time will enable you to realise that sometimes this can be the best way to gain a broader perspective when tackling a problem and beneficial ideas may surface that may not have been considered before.

Awareness

Be constructive if you do share something that may have an impact on others. Even small details such as your tone of voice can have a huge bearing over the way your communication is received. Intentions don’t always get interpreted the way they are meant to so consider individuals and think how you would feel in their shoes.

Accountability

Never agree with someone because you feel obliged or are afraid of upsetting them. If you don’t feel comfortable ensure that you consider why this is. You are responsible for your actions, therefore when making decisions, ensure that you are accountable for them and have gained all the information needed to make an appropriately informed choice.

Never agree with someone because you feel obliged or are afraid of upsetting them.

Distance

In the heat of the moment it can be easy to pass a comment we might later regret. If possible, avoid getting involved in other people’s disagreements. Even when it is a close friend involved, they need to fight their own battles and learn how to manage uncomfortable situations. One more thing… don’t play messenger. They have a habit of getting shot.

Focus

As difficult as it may be, remain focused on carrying out your role as best you can. If disputes amongst others are impacting your ability to do so then seek advice from your manager. They may not be aware of the disagreements taking place so informing them will allow any situation to reach a resolution much more quickly.

Most importantly, keep reminding yourself that working alongside others is a huge privilege. The diversity in knowledge and backgrounds can be hugely beneficial to your own career. Inevitably, differences  or miscommunication will result in friction at times. The sense of unease and anxiety, even when not directly involved, affects everyone in different ways. The key is to manage your own emotional wellbeing in response to these scenarios to ensure that the quality of your work is not compromised.

Amy Rowe is a former AAT student and a freelance writer reflecting on personal experiences. She covers a range of topics including lifestyle, wellbeing and study skills.

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