A Business Lunch Story

Call to Action: Prepare then proceed. Before charging into a negotiation or dispute, take a few minutes to outline your goals. List what the other party might be concerned about— the holdups— so you can be responsive to those concerns.

Why: To reap the benefits of careful planning, rather than suffering the consequences of off-the-cuff responses.   

Remember: Conflict skills are developed over time. The sooner you start working on them in real-life situations, the sooner you’ll get better at it.

Case Study:

Roger and I met for lunch. Roger was having difficulty with a situation at his workplace. He asked my advice on what he should do when confronted with a workplace conflict.

Roger was on contract directly for Pete. However, Mike, Pete’s business partner, had also come to expect Roger’s help whenever he requested it. The assignments for Mike were outside Roger’s core competencies.

These new duties made Roger incredibly frustrated, negatively impacting the way he viewed his work. Although Roger completed these tasks with his usual flare for quality work, they weren’t in line with Roger’s professional development.

Roger sought advice from trusted friends and family. From their perspective, Roger had two options: black and white.

On the one hand, Roger could suck it up and deal with it. This was a great business opportunity for Roger. By partnering with a prominent business man, Roger enhanced his own brand and reputation.

On the other hand, Roger could cut and runmove along to greener pastures. This theory assumed that Pete would still be a resource for Roger. If not, then Roger would have to find new work and new references. But what if this move damaged Pete and Roger’s relationship? Would Roger’s reputation recover?

Roger’s third option, as he saw it, was to march into Pete’s office and insist on no longer doing tasks for Mike.  Roger felt utterly insulted by Mike and couldn’t even stomach the idea of addressing him directly. Roger envisioned this as his best option. It would allow him to work with Pete, uphold his reputation, and avoid further complications from Mike.

See any problem?

As a neutral player in the situation, it seemed like a timeout was in order. Roger’s business relationship with Pete and Pete’s expertise were invaluable to Roger in many ways. Realistically, refusing work, even for a legitimate reason, could rub an employer the wrong way.

I wanted Roger’s conversation with Pete to be productive and empathetic. I asked Roger a few questions to develop that theme. Roger knew he couldn’t risk alienating Pete, a key player in Roger’s budding career. Yet Roger couldn’t bear the stress and waste of time working with Mike.

Seemingly in a catch 22, Roger wondered whether there was another way. There was. After brainstorming, Roger felt it made the most sense to focus on his work consistent with his professional development—the work he’d been hired to perform in the first place. Time doing that would mean less time on task with Mike. And he wouldn’t have to mention his frustration with Mike to pull it off. This solution allowed Roger to set boundaries without alienating his colleagues.

After our brief discussion, Roger left, confident that he had a solid foundation on which to base the conversation. Neither Pete nor Mike need be any the wiser.

I’m happy to report that Roger resolved his issue in the manner that we discussed. The rationale spoke for itself. By delivering his message with empathy and poise, Roger’s point was well received.

With preparation and practice, Roger will continue to develop professionally and earn a reputation as a level-headed colleague that collaborates and looks for value in situations. Think this is unrealistic? Just take one small action step in your own life and see how Roger’s experience benefits you.

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