Nipping Conflict in the Bud

Just the other day, my boss and I seemed to have a heated discussion on email. The idea is that I took on a task that my other teammate failed to deliver, which my boss assumed has been done weeks ago.

The first reaction I got from him is one of surprise: “Why is this work being done again?” I explained to him the scenario while trying to calm myself as I felt panic building up within me: “Oh my gum, did I do something wrong?”

The next question came from my boss and it provoked me to tell my colleague on him, but I dodged the question by explaining the boundaries of my accountability, and why I felt justified in taking on the task even if it’s not imposed upon me. I had to resist the urge to blame. If I had to express whose accountability the task was, I thought email was not the proper venue. I could just wait for when we meet and explain to him personally. Giving in to the demand of the situation would not help anybody at the time. If I were sincere, the situation must allow for something constructive to take place, and that will only happen if all the parties involved had a chance to understand the scenario and agree on action points that leverage our positive traits.

A few more exchanges and my boss replied more calmly. We met after three days and I did not feel guilty at all. He just basically clarified with one sentence and we both moved on from what happened. What’s clear is that I should help my teammate by not helping him. Read this: if he’s used to running away from tasks, then my taking over his to-do list will not help anybody. I must be creative in reminding myself what, to me, is wildly important, and express this to him. I am not saying no to his prompting to help him, I am saying yes to what could add value to the team through my modest contribution — by faithfully completing the tasks assigned to me.

To nip conflict in the bud means to stay calm and consider looking at the state of affairs: “Are we on the same page?” “What is he seeing that I don’t see? What am I seeing that he does not yet see?”

As in education, a constructivist approach to avoiding conflict with your boss or anybody for that matter is to calibrate schema. Do you define the same things similarly? What is your common ground? What common values do you share? Begin with that and it will set in motion a start of a healthy discussion, one that has a less likelihood of erupting into a rant fest or shouting match.

Finally, I appreciate my boss for trusting my teammates and I. His assumption that the task must have been completed early on speaks volumes of his relational trust towards his team members. My takeaway from what I first thought of to be a conundrum is to give yourself space to breathe, increase your level of inquiry and longing to discover the truth, and let the truth mold you into becoming a better person. The sooner you realize this, and have courage to face the truth, the bigger courage you will have which could prepare you for the journey ahead. Don’t be afraid to know, accept and learn from truth. It could set you free from mediocrity, laziness, and conceit. Have courage and delight in the truth!