Nine Things You Can Control at Work

Nine Things You Can Control at Work

What can you do if a workplace conflict is still raging, despite your every effort to resolve it? While your emotions may be in knots over the situation, the best strategy is to focus on things you can control and let go of everything else.

Here are nine areas within your control.

1. Your Plan for the Future

Consider what's important and follow a strategy for a period of time that feels comfortable. Your plan may include leaving your current work environment, or you may decide staying is the best thing to help meet your goal for a secure retirement, health benefits, or a good letter of recommendation. Knowing what you want your future to look like helps you look past the current situation and focus beyond your temporary problems.

2. Your Perspective

It's easy to get so wrapped up in a disagreement that you lose all perspective about the situation. This is especially true when the conflict is at work and you're experiencing it every day. Dealing with a persistent difficulty can become the routine—until you decide to change how you look at it.

Your perspective is chief among the things you can control. Stop and reassess your point of view. See if you can find a learning opportunity in the situation. Maybe this is a chance for you to step outside yourself and extend a little compassion to the other person. Or maybe if you purposefully and mindfully examine what’s going on, you can honestly say the issue isn't that important to you.

3. Your Responses

You can't control the other person's actions, thoughts, or feelings, but you always have the option to control your own responses. Change how you react to what's happening, and look for ways to respond that won't escalate your anxiety or blood pressure. Consider how you want others to see you and choose your responses accordingly.

4. Your Investment

Your time is one of the most valuable things you can control. How long have you lived with this conflict and how much effort are you putting into it? Do you really want to be more emotionally invested than everyone else? If your answer is no (or even a shaky maybe), then try to reduce your investment in the drama. Spend less time thinking about it, talking about it, and engaging in it.

5. Your Role in the Conflict

As difficult as it is to admit, you probably have some responsibility in the conflict. Consider how your actions and reactions look to others. Ask yourself, "What have I said or done—or not said or done—that has kept this conflict going?" It may take the assistance of friends, family, or professionals to help you realize it, but you don’t need to continue being the bully or the victim. If it takes two to tango and you’re no longer willing to dance, the conflict has to diminish.

6. Your Energy

Changing where you focus your energy can be a huge stress reliever. Unresolved conflict (and unresolved emotions) can be a black hole for energy; you can give and give without any guarantee you'll see that energy investment returned to you. Instead of putting 110 percent of yourself into the conflict, put your energy into a different outlet. Cleaning a closet, putting together a proposal for a creative project at work, or hitting the gym are all great ways to channel energy and emotions.

7. Your Own Story

When I read a good book, I create the movie in my head. I'm the casting director, set designer, and director. When it comes to a conflict at work, you can essentially do the same by choosing how you depict the scene to yourself and others. Your narrative is among the things you can control at work and out in the world.

When you're not emotionally involved in a problem, you can see both sides, so be objective and apply it to your own situation. Decide how this particular story will play out and how you'll speak about it. Give an account without elevating or victimizing anyone. When a coworker or supervisor asks about specifics, consider an honest but hopeful response such as, "It's a difficult time right now, but I’m learning a valuable lesson about expectations," rather than, "Yet again I'm the victim and no one cares." 

8. Your Method for Processing Emotions

You can keep the impact of a conflict to yourself and stuff your emotions away, or you can find constructive ways to process what's happening. Talking with a mentor, family member, friend, clergy, or therapist can be helpful. Keeping a journal, writing letters you’ll never send (my personal favorite), exercising, or even slinging rocks at a tree are all productive ways to process the emotions and perspective associated with an otherwise unproductive situation.

9. Your Character

You may follow directions and have job responsibilities, but no one can make you do anything. When you say, "He just makes me so (fill in the blank) that I had to (fill in the terrible past response or action you took)," you're giving the other person control over your moral fiber. Take personal responsibility and don't give anyone else the power to make you behave in a way that is unbecoming, unethical, or dishonorable. Show your best side—not an unchecked series of poor reactions.

Other Things You Can Control? Your Career Choices

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[Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies.]