In our last blog, we explored the fear of how others might react as a key factor in workplace conflict avoidance. In this installment, we continue the conversation by reviewing lessons learned in conflict through failure to respond in an appropriate way.

Back to my story. I was berating a colleague, and while I failed in all three positive practices of conflict resolution (take a break, communicate, preserve the relationship), the person’s response surprised me. Aside from being nervous at the sight of my aggression and anger, once I was done with my rant, he apologized. Right off the top, he said he was sorry and that he did not mean to upset me. He proceeded to tell me how much he appreciated the efforts I had made to the program so far. As you can imagine, I was floored. I expected him to mirror my anger, but he did not.

The lessons I learned in that moment were simple and obvious. My colleague’s willingness to listen, even amidst my drama, opened a door that led to mutual understanding. By listening, he helped me see his perspective behind the jokes he told that led to my original outburst. The second, and a little more obvious, is that it felt really good to release my frustration and communicate what was happening for me. Again, I did not communicate this message in a constructive way, but I did tell him what was bothering me, and he listened. Honestly, I wouldn’t have expected most people to tolerate my rant for so long. But I’m sure glad he did. The two lessons learned here: listen to the core issue and seek to understand, and communicate effectively how issues are impacting you.

Years later, my former colleague and I met at a group gathering.  We were both experienced members at this point.  We laughed at how old we looked and reminisced about that day. It was a great reunion with someone I greatly respected after that day.

If you find yourself in conflict with another person, communicate the core issue and how it is impacting you. Do not attack as I did, and always listen.

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