Some Conflicts Don’t Deserve the Direct Approach

Some Conflicts Don’t Deserve the Direct Approach

In U.S. culture we place a high value on speaking directly when resolving conflicts. Compared to many other cultures across the globe we’re a “put all your cards on the table and let’s talk about this” kind of people. In a setting where each party is concerned about the other person’s needs, this conflict style is ideal. But let’s face it, in the business world that’s often not the case. In fact, being direct with certain colleagues may only escalate the issue rather than resolve it. Before having a “sit down” with the guy who’s been undermining your project, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who has more power?
  2. What’s my investment in the relationship?
  3. What are my needs and goals?


Even though you may not like to admit it, power is present in every single relationship. However, it’s not always in balance. Sometimes you have more and sometimes the other guy does. When it comes to conflicts, power is something to be weighed before taking action. Of course, an individual’s position in the company is the most obvious way power is enacted. But it’s not the only thing to consider. A person’s social capital may be more powerful than the position he holds—or less powerful. In that case, his low social capital will negatively impact his power position. Social capital is another term for the combination of a person’s likeability, dependability, and trustworthiness. Just because someone is in a position of power, doesn’t mean he or she has social capital. Therefore, if the guy undermining your project has low social capital, his opinions are less likely to damage your project.

Relationship Investment

If each of us liked and trusted the people we work with it would be relatively easy to collaboratively resolve any conflicts that naturally occur in the office. The unfortunate truth is, not only can’t you pick your family you also don’t get to choose whom you work with. Your company has that responsibility. And sadly, the human resources department has a degree of fallibility when it comes to hiring employees. While your company may have an investment in the guy who’s undermining your project, you probably don’t. Most likely your emotional investment in this person is extremely low for the simple fact that you neither like nor respect him. So why bother trying to change his mind about you or your project? This doesn’t mean you should be rude or unfriendly. In fact behaving badly will only lower your social capital with the rest of the company. Better to strengthen your relationships with the people around him.

Needs and Goals

You may want to give the naysayer belittling your work a piece of your mind, but do you need to? Of course not! What you need is for others to perceive you as someone who works hard, can be trusted, has integrity, humility and is dependable. So, instead of focusing on the guy who’s trying desperately to sabotage your efforts, your goal should be to keep your eye focused on your own work initiatives and let your work ethic speak for itself.


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