When we find ourselves in conflict – whether with a coworker, family member, or friend – we tend to focus on the other person’s faults, and what they should be doing differently. And while these observations may be accurate, there are two things I know to be true. First, we cannot change someone else, and second – rarely is a conflict one-sided.
As an example, I recently spoke with a client who’d had a disagreement with a co-worker. He spent a good deal of the session delineating all of the ways in which this co-worker was “impossible to work with.” He talked about how this person missed deadlines, didn’t respond to emails, and backpedaled when things didn’t seem to go as planned. I could well imagine how frustrating this must be and how easy it would be to get caught up in the mindset of “if they only changed, things would be so much better.”
We talked through what he could control – what he is contributing to the situation. He realized that he’s been acquiescing to this peer. When this person didn’t respond to emails, my client would try following up and communicating in different ways. My clients shared that the impact of this lack of responsiveness and missing deadlines meant that he was often left scrambling to try and meet the demands of the business. In other words, to mitigate the impact on the rest of the organization, he was picking up the slack for this peer.
While he’d felt his frustration mounting over time, he’d not actually had a conversation with his co-worker to share his perspective. He recognized that by not setting clear boundaries with this co-worker, he was contributing to his own frustration. Specifically, my client owned that their choice to continue to “jump in and fix it” wasn’t an effective long-term solution for the organization. We talked through how he might approach the conversation, acknowledging the pattern they’d fallen into, identifying what’s working well and where there are opportunities for improvement, and opening a dialogue about what they can expect from one another going forward.
He came into our session aggravated because he felt there was nothing he could do, and that unless his co-worker changed, the situation wouldn’t get better. Through our conversation, he could see the parts of the situation he owned. This ownership led him to identify how changing his behavior might influence this relationship.
The point is not to give away your power. By focusing on yourself, and on what your contribution is, you regain your perspective. You remind yourself that you have choices, and in doing so, are able to identify a path forward.