You don’t need permission to change a conflict

Question posed: I would like TIPs to survive when I have no power or high job title to make changes to the toxic environment I work in or ability to fire the stupid people on my team.

Answer: I’ll assume you want to stay at this job, and the TIPs are how to make work more pleasant. Power or job title doesn’t control change. Presidents and CEOs of companies can control policy and financial decisions, and offer incentives to try to affect behaviour. Rarely can they control behaviour without backlash of some kind. Although we might prefer to change other people so that they get along with us, if a positive relationship with someone is in your interest, you might want to start with the one thing in common that you, your teammates, and the CEO can control.

Except in extreme cases of dominating others’ behaviors, we have control only over ourselves. That might not seem like much, but control over self gives each of us the power and ability to begin to change our conflicts into more positive events. We don’t have to wait for someone to agree or give us permission to make a change. We don’t even have to let them know we’re trying.

If you are in conflict with someone whose behavior, attitude or judgments you wish would change, you likely know by now that your efforts to impose your will on the other person have not been effective. Instead, try starting with your own behavior, attitude or judgments  towards that other person.

Toxic environments and stupid people need to change

Your description reminds me of a case I had a few years ago, coaching the President of an international company. He was having a conflict with others on the senior management team. The current economic conditions were making the conflict much more intense by adding financial concerns to an already difficult relationship.

As he and I discussed the problem from his perspective, the President said, “[name withheld] didn’t act like a normal human being would.” I asked the President how that opinion of [name withheld] abnormal behaviour would sound if someone else said it and he’d overheard the comment. The President defended his opinion of [name withheld].

Then I asked in what ways the President’s opinion of the other person was observable by others. The President admitted he hadn’t thought of that. He did believe it was possible that his attitude about others on the senior management team could be affecting his own actions and behaviours.

Our opinions of others leak out of us

The President got it immediately: “you mean, I’m acting towards them the same way I’m complaining they’re acting towards me?”

In other words, the President’s judgment of the team was known, even though the President was adamant he had never expressed that opinion to anyone but me. He didn’t have to say it; he showed disrespect for the members of the team in a lot of ways. Who started the disrespect was not the issue. His low opinion of the toxic environment and stupid people affected his conduct. His conduct towards the team was governed by his low opinion.

He created a new goal of improving his relationship with the team. He became, therefore, the one who was to start towards that goal.

I got an email from the President the next day: “I changed my attitude in the meeting today and there were no conflicts or snide remarks. I guess I was part of the problem.”

Toxic environments and stupid people are your attitude and a judgment that can change

Try becoming more conflict competent in your interactions with that difficult other person who you have tried unsuccessfully to change. Watch the person adapt to your change. It will take time and trust because they won’t believe you at first.

As your behavior becomes more conflict competent, the conflict situation will improve. The person who gave you permission to fix the situation by making changes was you.

Change that which is within your power to change, which is, your own behavior, attitude or judgments. You will notice the difference, even if no one else notices at first.

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