Cram a bunch of people with different personalities into a confined space, get their responsibilities to overlap, mix in some emotional baggage and deadlines, and whoop, there it is: conflict.
I’d like to say I’m fortunate and experience very little conflict in the workplace.
But that would be a lie.
The truth is that I experience conflict all the time, but I have the professionalism, courtesy and communication skills to turn these conflicts into opportunities.
A few years ago, I was part of the team that redesigned the Standards Council of Canada’s website. We migrated the entire site to Drupal and reskinned it in the process. The project was managed very well (shout out to Angela Cheng) but we overlooked some business requirements in the shuffle. When the new site was launched, one of our branches realized some of their information was no longer there. I found myself in the branch Director’s office, accompanied by the leaders of the project, while the Director laid into us and accused us of incompetency and neglect. Harsh!
I was still pretty junior at the time, having been with the organization less than a year. But in that office I stepped up and explained to the Director that I completely understood how he felt. His branch could have been consulted more extensively. I explained, however, that we caught the mistake early and were able to fix it quickly, which meant that none of our customers were impacted, and catching the oversight actually gave us the opportunity to improve other aspects of the new platform. Essentially, I apologized for the group and showed him the value of his input. The negative energy immediately vanished from the room. After the meeting, he pulled me aside and complimented me on my tact and professionalism. He even brought it up again days later. For a junior guy, it was quite the kudos.
Following this encounter, the Director and I enjoyed a great relationship. Better, I’m sure, than it would have otherwise been. Why? Because resolving that conflict created a bond between us. We ended up knowing each other better and trusting each other more.
The moral of this story is that conflict opens a door to get to know someone better, to really listen, to be a little vulnerable and, through good communication and the ability to compromise, to come out from under it stronger and smarter. Consider it an opportunity to grow.