February 14, 2014

Those Workplace Conflicts May Be Your Fault

By Kathryn Tuggle

If you continually find yourself at odds with your colleagues, perhaps it’s time you took a good look in the mirror. While having arguments doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful leader, it may be a sign you need to dial it back a notch. Here the top three questions to ask yourself to determine if you might be the real reason behind co-worker conflicts.

Are your complaints or frustrations with people always the same?

If you find you always have the same complaints about everyone, that’s a sign the flaw may be yours, suggests Erica Ariel Fox, author of the New York Times Bestseller Winning From Within.

“If you always find yourself saying, ‘These people are so rude,’ or ‘These people are so selfish,’ but the people are in different situations on different projects at different companies, then that is a sign you are doing something that is eliciting that type of response — you’re just unaware you’re doing it,” Fox says.

For example, if you are a manager who sends emails to your team on a Saturday and they don’t get back to you until Monday morning, that doesn’t mean they are lazy — it means you’re a workaholic, Fox says.

“In reality, you’re the one with the assumption that people should work seven days a week. What’s happening is that you’re overworking and expecting everyone else do to the same,” she says.

Likewise, if you often feel your bosses micromanage you, that may be because you never follow through on projects.

“Your lack of execution may be the reason why your boss is constantly checking in with you,” she says. “You may be forcing them to watch over your shoulder because they know you don’t deliver on time. You are almost requiring them to treat you this way.”

Do you have the same fights with your family and friends that you do with your colleagues?

If you sense that those around you are uncomfortable when talking to you, or that they openly avoid you, it could be a sign others are having issues with your behavior, says Robert Hosking, executive director at staffing firm OfficeTeam.

“Sometimes the behaviors that others find annoying outside of the office may be the same ones that are affecting colleagues, Hosking says. “Your friends and family can make you aware of your habits so you can make changes at work as appropriate.”

Take a look at past conflicts, he suggests — you may see some common denominators and red flags that you can address for future situations.

“If you find that your coworkers are frustrating and annoying for the same reasons that your mother, your landlord and your roommate are, then that’s a pattern, and it’s a good indicator that it’s a button in you that’s getting pushed,” Fox says. “It just couldn’t be true that all these people could have the same flaw.”

Force yourself to think about times when the same conflict has arisen in your life, Fox suggests. If you see that you had the same issues when you were on a project in graduate school that you do now on a project at your job, there’s something you’re doing that’s not working.

“If the context changes but the dynamic of the problem doesn’t, then there’s something you need to change,” she says.

Thankfully, if you’re really interested in improving your attitude, close friends and family members will likely be honest with you about your flaws, Fox says. Tell them that you are trying to understand more about yourself and they’ll let you know if your behavior is constructive.

Ask yourself: “Am I creating my life or is life happening to me?”

Start listening to yourself when you recount stories about co-worker conflicts, Fox says.

“When you find yourself talking to friends about your problems, pay attention to the narrative of your story,” she says. “Is there always a bad guy and always a good guy — more importantly, are you always the good guy? If your co-workers are always the villains, then there’s a problem.”

Look for the ways the other person could be the good guy and ways you might be the villain. By looking at things in a different way, you may see that you need to change, she says.

Before pointing the finger at others involved, ask yourself: “Am I being defensive?” suggests Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing firm.

“Can you take someone’s advice if they’re a level beneath you? How do you react to constructive criticism? Are you against change? Seek input from unbiased outsiders and find a mentor. Talk through these issues,” he says.

One way to assess the situation is to speak with those who work closely with you, Gimbel says. Ask your manager and coworkers for their opinion and be receptive to their feedback. If they truly want you to grow and succeed, they will be honest.

Keep in mind that there “is way too much ego and emotion in business, and more often than not it’s negative emotion — not positive or constructive,” says Paul Sorbera, president of executive search firm Alliance Consulting.

“So many times there are very simple and mutually better solutions that when addressed calmly and rationally can be discovered,” Sorbera says. “It is very important in business to keep one’s emotions out of the situation. Think before you speak and put emotions aside.”

Click here to see the original interview.