Conflict in the workplace can be tricky. On the one hand, there’s nowhere to run in an uncomfortable situation—you’ll still see your co-workers tomorrow (or on Monday). But on the other hand (and the one we’ll argue here), avoiding conflict can be incredibly damaging to professional relationships, productivity, and even impact your career trajectory in the long term. So if you’re facing a difficult situation with colleagues, read on for a few reasons why you should confront the issue head on.
There’s no doubt that letting something fester can lead to unnecessary tensions, if not an entire breakdown in communication. Despite how much you tell yourself that it’s better not to cause a scene, some situations truly need to be addressed—and the team won’t be able to move forward until they are.
That said, it’s also important to be judicious about which situations you tackle head-on. You also don’t want to be the team member always causing problems, so pick your battles. Think about how much stress the unaddressed issue is causing you, and do your best to get a sense of what the other person (or people) feel about it in order to gauge whether it’s worth surfacing.
As a result of strained communication, teams often become less effective, spending time talking their way around an issue rather than actually getting work done. The opinions, feelings, and trade-offs usually made by the group as a collective become individual decisions, not only creating a barrier to communication but also impacting the team’s output. Worst case scenario, animosity begins to build between colleagues, creating an even bigger issue than existed before.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to prove that strained communication and ineffective teamwork can harm a company, from negatively impacting the customer experience to causing high rates of employee churn. Instead, take the opportunity to step up and surface critical issues—your manager, team, and other employees (whether they know it or not) will appreciate it.
Tackling conflict can also help you on a personal level. When you confront a colleague about an issue, you effectively re-open the communication channels—the first step to not only coming to a resolution in that particular instance, but also creating a process for future issues that arise—and thus building a more trusting relationship.
Think about it this way: If you never address an issue, you’ll never know what the outcome would have been—and you might always hold a grudge against that colleague (or colleagues) for a misunderstanding. In addition to putting stress on your relationship(s), this unknown can also create unnecessary stress for you—a true lose-lose situation.
Lacking the confidence to step up and say something is a common reason that people leave problems unaddressed (both in and outside of the workplace). Don't trick yourself into believing that there’s nothing you can do about a conflict, or that your colleague is actually justified in his or her actions just because you’d rather not approach them.
Speaking up and surfacing the issue will ultimately build your confidence in your own convictions and ability to problem solve with colleagues. The next time there’s an issue, you’ll confidently surface the problem more quickly so that you can move forward with the appropriate solution and get back on track.