Surviving Work Stress & Avoiding Conflict

man working using a laptop
Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile

Many suffer from workplace stress due to toxic environments or people. It cannot be effortless to focus on work duties, get along with other people, or maintain healthy relationships outside of the workplace. Managing stress can seem like a job duty alone, depending on the volume of work, the structure of the company you work for, and the personalities of colleagues.

In the past, I’ve experienced unexpected work stress. My expectations of what workplace interactions should be didn’t meet my needs. The hope that I had when working with older and wiser individuals is that I would gain more knowledge about my work and how I viewed the world.

After one week of working in the space, I immediately began to see that it was hard for my colleagues to accept me due to our age differences. It was almost like my insight and knowledge didn’t matter. There were times when the person that was training me, purposefully gave me wrong information so that when I made a mistake on tasks that I was completed, it appeared as if I was making careless mistakes. The way that others approached me regarding the error was not welcoming. The moment that I started to feel uneasy and out of place is the moment that I began to focus on my responses to the conflict. I was feeling anger and irritation with each moment I sat in the office space, however, I made the most out of it and thought that it must’ve been a personal issue with the person who trained me incorrectly. I did not feel that it was necessary for me to feel this way at a place in which I was excited to work. After I addressed the conflict within myself, I left the job after three weeks. That was one of the best decisions I ever made because this allowed me to step into full-time entrepreneurship. The initial fear of doing so brought me to this job, and it also leads me out of it.

Have you ever been in a position where you felt like people were out to get you in your work environment? These types of work conflicts can be addressed healthily by choosing to view the problem as a lesson learned.

Why does a work conflict occur? That is a great sense of understanding that we could all benefit from having to grasp why conflict even occurs.

I began to explore why people are prone to work conflict and how their personal lives, in addition to work systems, play a role in this dysfunction.

What are some reasons why conflict arises:

  • Some people may feel threatened because of a new colleague starting in their department and automatically view them as competition. They could potentially expect that people are going to do things the way they’ve done them and find it to be insulting when one doesn’t follow their blueprint. The typical response to a person who has unhealthy ways of managing internal conflict is to play the victim role and view others as being an issue rather than themselves.
  • There’s no actual structure or expectations of employee’s behavior, and some people have seniority status in the company, and there are no negative consequences for them.
  • There may be a lack of boundaries between different cultures of people. Some people are accustomed to a particular culture within the workplace, and they carry over behaviors that were once acceptable such as standing close to others and not having an awareness of what’s appropriate vs. inappropriate closeness, not announcing themselves when walking into a colleagues personal space.
  • There are unhealthy control and power issues in leadership roles.

How can someone who’s having a hard time in their personal lives manage work conflict? Instead of projecting negative feelings into the person, you can follow up with questions to get a clear understanding of the personality of the other person and their perspective. Also, if a person is making you uncomfortable, you have the right to speak professionally to them and let them know of the discomfort. Sometimes physically appearing to be uncomfortable is not always something that another person will be able to pick up on.

I’ve learned that how I handle the situation is up to me. Will I carry the negative emotions within myself or focus on accomplishing a goal? During work conflicting moments, it’s best to focus on achieving a goal, not responding off of your emotions.

In that moment of discomfort, I check in with myself by:

  1. Provide myself with validation for how I felt and my thoughts.
  2. Focus my attention on reducing any negative emotion that I feel immediately.
  3. I will remind myself that I have a valuable service to provide.
  4. I can’t change how others feel or respond.
  5. I must control my emotions so that I can provide the service accurately.
  6. Allow no distractions from others and further my growth within the situation by observing and not responding.
  7. Reflect on the feeling I had before the situation that caused the conflict.

Overall I realized that conflicts are going to happen. There’s no way to avoid them, but all in all, I take my power back when I don’t meet the person where they are at with their negativity. I feel that the control is within you as long as you don’t allow external factors to control your internal thoughts and feelings.

Check out our Wellness Services & Products page for additional resources.

Shawnee Palmer, LCSW, LAC

Alpine’s Empowerment Agency, LLC

Love & Serenity Wellness

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