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Got Conflict?

When you really think about it, it’s not the mind-numbing work, the mission-impossible assignments, the dumb-headed management team or the constant threat of immanent firing that makes your job so awful. You’re used to all that.

The real workplace hardships are the office conflicts that erupt like volcanoes, covering you with the lava of rage and the debris of frustration. Or such was the case before Beverly West, a contributing writer for the Monster job site, published a nifty sermonette titled, “Resolve Office Conflicts.”

Since you are probably a major source of conflict in your workplace, learning how to resolve the disagreements of others would be the charitable thing to do, and it would allow more breathing room for your own personal temper tantrums.

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Is it possible to recast yourself as the office peacemaker? Perhaps, with a little professional help. As West writes, “So the next time you’re ready to explode because your cube neighbor did something that irritates you yet again, let these tips from business-harmony experts help you make peace rather than war.”

One such expert is Stewart Levine, the founder of Resolution Works and the author of “Getting to Resolution: Turning Conflict into Collaboration.” Levine is conflicted over the usual way of resolving conflicts, in which the outcome produces a winner and a loser.

For Levine, this kind of resolution “produces all losers, no matter who thinks they won.” For me, this kind of goofy, goody two-shoes thinking may be fine in Consultantland, but in the real world, it just won’t fly for people like thee and me — people who may not be always be right, but who are never ever wrong.

I do give Levine credit for his psychological analysis of the emotional collisions that can occur in the workplace. “Most conflict-resolution conversations do not foster resolutions that address the underlying sources of conflicts — breakdowns in relationships.”

In other words, if the nudnik in the next cubical insists on humming Belle & Sebastian all day long, completely spoiling the Black Sabbath blasting from your boombox, it’s not really your neighbor’s lack of musical taste that is the problem. As any Jungian psychiatrist could tell you, the problem is your workmate’s inability to differentiate the collective unconscious from the personal unconscious due to countertransference of the superego. Fortunately, there’s a cure for this condition — Black Sabbath blasting 24/7.

According to the experts, one of the most important tools for resolving relationship issues is emotional intelligence. Since this is a tool that is not in your toolbox, turn to author Daniel Goleman. He suggests that you “air grievances sensitively. Think about the effect your criticism will have on the recipient. If your words suggest that the person is dim-witted, lazy or inconsiderate, you will get defensiveness and resentment in response.” This is very true, especially if the person is dim-witted, lazy or inconsiderate.

Personally, I think you should be rewarded for being honest. Who wouldn’t want to hear a list of their shortcomings, especially if delivered nose to nose with spittle flying and everyone in the office listening? This technique is especially effective if you aim your hostility on someone completely innocent of any office infraction. That way, you’ll feel better and your co-workers will know you truly care. And seeing you strip the hide from a hapless innocent, the big shots in the company will immediately recognize you as management material.

The final section of West’s article suggests that a good way to avoid being enraged by others is to manage our own stress levels. Gloria Dunn, president of Wiser Ways to Work, has a number of stress-relieving suggestions, including “Create a workspace that nurtures you (e.g. makes you feel both physically and emotionally comfortable.)”

I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like permission to come to work in your bathrobe. And how about spreading a thick layer of sand on your cubical floor, the better to make you feel like you’re on vacation in the magical island of Hawaii? Cooking up a pot of poi on a hot plate is also very nurturing, especially with a side of barbecue catfish from the Weber grill you’ve set up where your computer used to be.

And if any of your co-workers start a fuss, let them know you are not only perfectly willing to resolve any conflicts, but you are also prepared to intelligently emote on their personal failings in great detail. But first, you have to turn up Black Sabbath.

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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