Politics in any country is often a messy sport at times. So much of politics is about using your relationships with others to try and find common ground on issues and policy, so you can make it legislation and move the country forward.
However, this week in Australian politics was a particularly shocking one. With the sudden ousting of our Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who had been ousted by her 3 years earlier, it got me thinking about what Australian politics can teach us about workplace conflict and what mistakes we can learn from this appalling sequence of events.
Workplace conflict can literally make your life a misery, so here are my 5 top reckless relationship mistakes you want to avoid in the workplace:
1. Forming alliances
Of course, a huge part of politics is about forming alliances to be able to pass through the bills that you care about.
But there can be good alliances and bad alliances.
Alliances that help you and your colleagues meet your goals and work together to support one another and the company’s mission are a great thing.
However, alliances that are formed to slowly disempower others in the workplace are the type that undermines the good of any workplace- or political party.
Workplace conflict tip: The best strategy is to remain independent of any negative alliances so that you aren’t called into taking sides. This promotes greater trust in the workplace and makes for a happier team all round.
2. Lying and deceit
It’s no surprise that politicians are adept at lying and deceit. They are literally trained to tell people what they want to hear, in order to get their own agendas met.
Unfortunately, the downside to this is they have very little respect or trust on the whole.
Using this strategy in the workplace as a way to deal with conflict is a losing strategy for all involved.
Deceit erodes any goodwill and trust between work colleagues. Your workmates will view you with distrust and be unlikely to trust you with important information in the future.
Workplace conflict tip: Honesty generally is the best policy when it comes to dealing with differences in the workplace. Be assertive, truthful and respectful in all your communications and you will constructively deal with and resolve conflict.
3. Stonewalling and withdrawal
Stonewalling, commonly used to refer to the process of someone completely ignoring and shutting down communication with another person is often employed by politicians as a way to wear down their political opponent.
The problem with stonewalling is that it’s one of the most destructive relationship styles you can employ with another person.
Essentially the message you’re sending is ‘you’re not even worth talking to’, and that’s a pretty bitter pill to swallow.
In the workplace, stonewalling and withdrawal are employed as a way to deal with the anxieties related to the lack of resolution of a conflict. The only problem is you still have the discomfort of having to face your work colleague day in, day out.
Workplace conflict tip: Rather than ignoring or avoiding your work colleague, instead sit down with them and see if you can come to a common understanding of the difficulty between you. Even if you agree to disagree, the fact you’ve taken the time to try and resolve it says a lot about your respect for yourself and your colleague.
4. Deflecting communication
I love watching politicians employ deflection in their communications. They are masters at not answering the question directly and constantly shift the focus off-topic or to the topic that benefits them.
The problem with this communication style is it doesn’t engender a sense of trust in the person, because you’re constantly feeling like they are avoiding the issue at hand, or trying to spin the discussion to benefit their own interests.
In the workplace, this is also an unproductive communication style that gets in the way of individuals and teams resolving problems and disagreements. It often leads to high levels of frustration amongst staff and lowers productivity.
Workplace conflict tip: If you’re trying to work through a problem, be as direct as possible with your responses and don’t deflect your answers. Directness directly increases the levels of trust your colleagues and staff will have in you, which leads to a happier workplace with happier workers.
5. Revenge and retribution
Political commentary this week has certainly referred to the idea that Kevin Rudd got his political revenge on former Prime Minister Julia Gillard but ousting her from the Labor party.
While revenge and retribution may feel sweet in the short term, it truly can be a poisoned chalice. While we don’t know what’s in store for Kevin Rudd as the new Prime Minister of Australia, it’s likely there will be consequences for the way that he took his revenge on Julia.
Likewise, when revenge and retribution show up in the workplace, it can be incredibly destructive to those that engage in these behaviours.
Revenge not only destroys the person it’s intended for, but has a ripple effect where other work colleagues will lose their trust and sense of safety with you. Your relationships are compromised and the hate you internalise for the other person or people begins to eat you up. Essentially you not only destroy your enemy, but you also start to destroy yourself.
Workplace conflict tip: If you feel the desire for revenge or retribution, take time out to understand exactly what’s going on for you in relation to the other person or organisation. Often such strong feelings are deeply rooted in earlier experiences that haven’t been dealt with, and as a result, find their expression in intensity in the current conflict in the workplace. If needed, seek the help of a professional so you can process these feelings and avoid damaging yourself or your reputation.
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photo credit: Gary Ramage