Co-Worker Conflict: The Best Way Out, Upward, And Onward

Have you ever butted heads with someone at work and didn’t know how to resolve it? We’ve all been there. But we’re not talking about an argument with a random individual. No, we’re referring to a team member who you regularly have to engage with on projects as part of your role.

When this happens, there’s no avoiding the painful fact that you and this other person go together like oil and water. With seemingly no way out, the cycle of conflict with this co-worker repeats itself, making you feel trapped, dread going to work, and even cause you to look for another job entirely. 

However, there’s good news: the situation is often very fixable. Let me provide you with a great example from a client to illustrate.

Not long ago, Aspiration Catalyst found itself working with the leaders of an entertainment company, including all their VPs of sales from various regions across the U.S.

While with this group, one of the first exercises we engaged in was called Naming and Claiming Your Strengths. Through this exercise, people have received reports on their true strengths. In that moment, when you learn what your true strengths are, there are a number of things to process.

One of the best ways to help with that is to partner up with someone in the room to share your observations and reflections.

In this case, during the exercise of everyone partnering up, two gentlemen in particular were engaged in what appeared to be a very intent – and intense – conversation. As these partner discussions wrapped up and everyone was brought back together, we asked for observations on what was learned during these conversations. What did they hear and learn from one another?

One of the men locked in the very intense conversation surprised us by saying, "Oh my gosh, this was great. If we do nothing else today, I've gotten extreme value from this."

Why was that? As it turned out, the two very intense men had been knocking heads for a really long time. Whenever they were partnered on projects, they had a very hard time working together.

One would pepper the other with questions about facts and data until he had all the information he needed. Then and only then would he could feel comfortable making decisions.

While that may make sense to many of us, it didn’t sit well with the other man on the receiving end, who was taking the questions quite personally.

Now, as a result of this exercise, the two could finally see the root of where most of their disagreements began.

“It was because I have all these strategic strengths,” one of the men said. “I've got analytical strengths where I need a lot of facts and data before I can make a decision on something. And this guy, he has a lot of relationship-building strengths. So he doesn't really need a lot of facts and data to make decisions because he just trusts people."

The other man chimed in, “Whenever he would question me like that, I would feel, ‘Gosh, don't you trust me? Don't you know me well enough now that of course whatever I'm doing is going to be high quality and good for you and for me? Yet, you're asking me all these questions and making me feel like you don't think I know what I'm doing.’

For what felt like the first time, the two men could fully appreciate what each other brought to the table. There was a renewed sense of trust that hadn’t been there before. The relationship-based man knew the facts-and-data-based man required a lot of information upfront and was happy to bring that. The facts-and-data-based man knew that the relationship-based man needed to feel like he was trusted and respected – and he could probably ease up on his need for data just a bit when the two were working together.

Fast Forward To Six Months Later

As Aspiration Catalyst was brought back into the company to work with a group, we had to ask about the two gentlemen who had formerly butted heads and seen the light by Naming and Claiming Strengths. How were they doing now? Had they made progress or was their relationship back to its awkward, contentious ways

That’s when one of the employees at the company piped up and said, “Are you kidding? We describe them as having a bromance now! Ever since they went through the exercise with you, they work together beautifully."

The Naming and Claiming Your Strengths exercise was such an “Aha!” moment for two people who couldn’t have had a more strained work relationship at the time who now have one of the most productive relationships in the entire company. And it shows in the quality of the work they do together.

This is the power of strengths, in our view at Aspiration Catalyst: Helping people understand each other. It begins with investing in what you do well and becoming even better. If you’re already good at communication, for example, the more time and effort you spend to get better at communication will be easy. It will flow because you love to do it. It won’t be exhausting.

The same holds true with relationships. When you understand other people, you will actually start to reach out to people that are quite different than you versus the normal mode of operation to look for people just like you. After all, when we surround ourselves with people that are just like us, we're not really stretching, growing, or expanding. When we surround ourselves with people that are different than us, that's where the growth comes in. And where one plus one equals something greater than two.

If you find yourself or members of your team struggling to connect with one another in a similar fashion to the example above, the problem might be a whole lot more fixable than you think. But ignoring it won’t make it go away. Talk to Aspiration Catalyst about arranging a strategy session in your company that may help your people see one another for who they are with a full appreciation of strengths to go around. To learn more, contact Kim Svoboda of Aspiration Catalyst at 773.909.4546 or email today.