We spend an inordinate amount of time being stressed at work.  While some frustrations may be driven by the “do more with less” approach, the struggle to keep up with rapid changes, and a general avalanche of problems, one of our top sources of stress relates to the conflict we have with other people.  The typical responses of complaining, avoiding, or fighting can be absolutely draining.  Recent studies show that in the US, work-related stress is costing the economy over 300 billion per year and can be blamed for 120,000 deaths per year.

How we deal with stress related to coworkers can determine our health, happiness, and productivity. While it is tempting to blame the other person, there is usually not one culprit so an excellent place to start is understanding our role in the situation.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with stress-related conflicts at work.

1. Assume positive intent. In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error or over attribution bias refers to our tendency to judge others by their behavior and assign it to their character but to judge ourselves based on our intent.  When we see someone doing something, we tend to think it relates to their personality rather than the situation that the person might be in. For example, if someone cuts in front of you in line, your immediate reaction could be, “What a jerk!” But in reality, maybe he never cuts lines and is doing it this one time because he is about to miss his plane and hence his brother’s wedding and of course he has the rings! Yet, when we do seemingly obnoxious things, we always have a good reason. It is other people we see as defective, but not us. When making these judgments about others, we increase our levels of stress. Instead, when we focus our attention on their possible positive intentions, we start to see things differently, not only do our stress levels reduce, but we can be surprised by how much more optimistic we can feel.

2. Activate your self-awareness. To interpret the frustration you are experiencing towards the other person, you need to be aware of your emotions which are causing you to feel thwarted or threatened.  When was the last time you made time in your busy schedule to list the ways which others can send you into mad mode?  The more you know about your triggers, the better you can control your temperament.  Sometimes, all it takes is a small discovery that we did not perform well on a presentation to touch our larger insecurity around public speaking, and in that case, it has more to do with us than the comments of others who are just trying to be helpful.

3. Consciously manage your emotions.  Once aware, channel your emotions to be a thoughtful responder rather than an emotional reactor. Lashing out can seem like an easier action, but it is not the more productive one.  One way to be more mindful is to incorporate reflective practices in your life – deep breathing, meditation, yoga, solitary walks, and other activities can go a long way in increasing your self-awareness so you will be able to plan and be strategic on how we will respond. It’s about intentionally choosing how you want to show up, instead of blurting out words that you could later regret.

4. See people as people, not threats.  Building friendships at work can increase our happiness level and provide additional perspectives to check our opinions.  Adopting a collaborative mindset over a competitive one can also create untapped joy.  Try out these words – “we, us, ours” instead of “me, I, mine.”  Ask yourself, “what can I do for the team,” instead of thinking “what can the team do for me?” Consult close friends at work to get another perspective or work with a coach to learn more about your blindspots.

5. Lean into your natural empathy and compassion. Find out how the other person came to their point of view.  How is it different than yours? How is it the same?  The more you learn about somebody else, the more you may discover that you have more in common than you may have thought.  Or perhaps there is a new appreciation for what the person is trying to do which has nothing to do with singlehandedly, or in a larger conspiracy, taking you down!

Instead of just enduring the toxicity and associated stress that we may experience at work, we have a multitude of options to explore, which will create more internal and external joy.  Life is too short to spend time brooding about unnecessary drama.  Take steps to control what you can and not worry about what you cannot. 

Quote of the day: “Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” -William James

Q: What strategy do you use to handle a stress-conflict at work? Comment and share with us, we would love to hear your thoughts!

As a Leadership Coach, I partner with others to resolve conflicts in the workplace and create agreements for success, contact me to learn more.

Handle your workplace stress for a healthier and happier life.