To Do Well at Work, Avoid Fights

Your boss won't want to be dragged into your conflicts.


If I were to select key bits of advice to give someone who is just launching a career, one of those would be “Avoid fights.”

Supervisors don’t like to get dragged into “he started it” versus “she started it” scenarios. They resist being forced to choose sides. Now, this may seem incredibly wimpy on their part (it is), and it may go against any reasonable person’s sense of justice, but that’s the way they are.

They’d rather pretend that the team is filled with happy compatriots who can barely refrain from linking arms and singing songs together. They don’t want to see signs of conflict because once they acknowledge its presence (yikes!), they have to make a decision about their level of response. Even if ignoring it is one of their choices, they can never quite put their knowledge back in the can. They knew and yet did nothing. Many a court case revolves around that decision.

But let’s say this is not a litigation-worthy dispute and although you’ve done your best to be reasonable, your adversary is not reciprocating. Your analysis and consultation with objective parties signals that it’s time to string barbed wire and move up the artillery.

Tempting though it may be to blast away and point out the general jerkishness of your opponent, the best approach is to line up your allies and control your emotions. Let the other side huff and puff to the boss while you remain ultra-reasonable and polite. Let it be clear that you did not choose to escalate the matter. Your adversary did that. Cite your efforts to find a compromise. Choose a moderate tone. Understate your case.

Does this always work? No, but its wins far exceed its occasional losses. Even if you lose a battle, you may ultimately win the war, as management notices how your professionalism and maturity favorably contrasted with the behavior of your opponent.

Michael Wade writes, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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