Catholic in the Cubicle, Part 3: Workplace Conflicts

CT  CT-BIZ-WORK-ADVICE_CTMAIN 0827 SRThe following is a guest post by Bob Waruszewski.

The workplace can be a harsh environment. Whether you work in fast food or the corporate office, all of us have experienced conflicts with our co-workers, bosses, or customers. Sometimes we go into conflicts guns blazing, determined to win the argument and save our reputation. Other times we let people walk over us, for fear of losing our jobs or a potential promotion. So, what’s the middle ground? How do we become “wise as serpents but innocent as doves” when dealing with conflict at work? Below are some guidelines to help you resolve conflicts.

1. Prayer

Conflict often catches us off guard; a phone call from an angry customer or a simple comment in a meeting may start an intense argument. To effectively deal with conflict, we need to have a strategy mapped out ahead of time, starting with prayer. Our first reaction to conflict should be to turn to God with a quick prayer. A simple prayer such as, Jesus help me, or mentally reciting a favorite Bible Verse is good. Invite the Lord into the situation and be mindful of His presence with you throughout the conflict. Before saying anything or yelling at the other person, ask for God’s help and remember that this adversity can be a way for you to grow closer to Him.

Key Scripture: 1st Thessalonians 5:17 – Pray without ceasing

2. Listen to Their Side of the Story

After requesting God’s assistance, give the person a chance to speak. Too often, we plan our rebuttal to the person’s argument before even hearing them out. Before responding in an argument, actively listening to the other person. Validate what they say and then begin to think of your response. You don’t have to agree with what they said, just acknowledge that you have heard their side of the story.  

Key Scripture: James 1:19 –  You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger

3. Speak the Truth while Setting Good Boundaries

So you asked God for help and listened a bit to the other person, now it is time to respond. Speak the truth and offer a solution to the conflict. Often clashes take place at work because we do not communicate our expectations with co-workers. We can be bitter towards them if we do not set good boundaries and allow the same conflicts to happen repeatedly.

Frequently, in this politically correct society, we are afraid to speak the truth for fear of hurting feelings or we turn to emails and text messages to communicate difficult issues. However, to resolve conflict, it is best to engage with the other person face-to-face, or at least on the phone. Emails can often be misinterpreted and are not effective at solving problems.

For example, maybe the boss is frustrated with you because you have not finished that big project for him yet, but the deadline isn’t for another few days. Politely go up to him and explain that he needs to make his expectations clear to you, if he wants it done earlier, he needs to let you know.. This can help avoid conflicts in the future if he communicates key due dates, provided they are realistic.

Maybe you are frustrated with a co-worker who keeps asking you how to do a certain process even though you showed him how to do it many times. Next time he asks you for help, firmly explain to him that he needs to learn how to do the process on his own and cannot always rely on you for help. Give him the tools to succeed, but don’t enable him.

You may also face conflict when an angry customer calls or emails you to file a complaint against the company. If the company did something wrong, do what is in your power to make things right. However, if the customer is trying to bilk the company for money, do not comply with their request. Resist the temptation to bend over backwards and disregard company policy just to appease a dishonest customer and avoid conflict.

Key Passage – “To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” – Caritas In Veritate I

These are but a few examples of conflicts that arise in the workforce and some tools to deal with them. They certainly are not a one-size fits all way of solving every problem that you face. However, for whatever trouble comes your way today, recall the words of St. Francis de Sales: “Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your world seems upset.”

Remember that all the trials you face today are passing things and just minor road bumps along the journey to our true home in heaven.

Have you ever had a workplace conflict? How did you resolve it?

Bob Waruszewski is a cradle Catholic from Pittsburgh, PA. He graduated from St. Vincent College with a bachelor’s degree in both mathematics and economics. Currently he works in the regulatory department for a natural gas distribution company in the Steel City and is enjoying life as a married man. In his free time, which will be cut dramatically when his wife gives birth in May, he enjoys playing sports, hiking and reading a good book. His favorite saint is St. Joseph.

4 Responses to “Catholic in the Cubicle, Part 3: Workplace Conflicts”

  1. It’s very difficult to not be hard on myself in instances of conflict. I try to accept as much as I can, learn what God wants me to learn, and then quickly move on. It’s difficult to cultivate personal relationships in the workplace where conflict arises. Therefore, I see my personal life having definitive separation from my professional life in many ways.

  2. Patrick Trela Reply

    Being a young Professional in a growing work place there tend to conflicts where there really shouldn’t be. Being an intern, there is really not that much I can do, although at times because of my position in the projects, I am the most knowledgeable. I had one time where I was finishing off a major project that I had run for approximately 6 months, and certain contractors wouldn’t listen to me. I had given them all the information that they had needed in order to do the job properly and specific instructions on how I would like to get it done. They deliberately refused to follow my directions, and I had to bring plant management into the situation. I almost flew off the handle at them and started to cuss them out, but a few Hail Mary’s and a few “Jesus Help Me”‘s kept it under control. It really does help a lot.

  3. The Human Resource director in our organization uses her position and access to the Chief Executive Officer to make trouble for employees and directors. I recently, as Finance Director experienced a situation where the CEO admonished me for not completing a task that was requested by the HR director. I was called to his office and “chewed on” in front of the HR director. There was no need to get the CEO involved. The processes to complete the task were underway. I decided not to accept the criticism and I became very emotional. I told the truth loudly- that the HR director is a trouble maker and that I do not trust her. I explained that the processes were underway, that I had not “dropped the ball” and that I was not trying to delay or stall the completion of the request.

    The CEO did not interrupt me and let me explain. The thin relationship between myself and the HR director is now broken. Should I feel guilty about defending myself? What does a good Catholic do in situations like this? I appreciate any advice you can offer.

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