Conflict Resolution

“It’s not you, it’s me” – The Wisdom of a Break-Up Adage

Some of our most difficult and frustrating relationships happen in the workplace. Inevitable really, considering we spend 8 to 12 hours a day with people who we possibly didn’t choose, potentially have nothing more in common with than a shared workspace and who ultimately have their own ideas and agendas about how best to navigate their working life. In other words, our working relationships can feel like a poorly executed arranged marriage in which both parties feel equally dissatisfied with whom they’ve been partnered with and equally absolved of any role they play in contributing to the failing relationship.

So…wait for it…this is when the break-up adage, “It’s not you, it’s me” turns from something we say (but most often don’t believe) to ease the pain of a wanted but somewhat sympathetic breakup into an opportunity for relationship building brilliance in the workplace. How? Simple. Believe it to be true. Maybe, just maybe, it is actually us and not them. Maybe our perception of someone and subsequently our resulting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with them are actually what is creating and contributing to our most difficult and unsatisfying relationships with the people we work with. Pause. I am putting forth a challenge to resist the urge we might be feeling right now to rationalize the intense wrongness of my suggestion, to begin formulating in our brains all the reasons why we believe we have done everything we can and yet “Jane” is still difficult, “John” is still moody, “Joe” is still incompetent, and “Judy” is still lazy.

Rather, consider this; How are the labels we’ve attached to Jane, John, Joe, Judy (or whoever that person is to you) helping us improve our relationship with them or better yet, our overall experience in the workplace? Labels (or the application of negative qualities) actually aggravate already challenging dynamics that exist between people, they change the way we act and communicate with people (and not in a good way), they prevent us from seeing what qualities this person possesses that might be valuable to us or the workplace and above everything else, the labels we assign to others prevent us from seeing clearly and reflecting on what we bring to the difficult nature of the relationship. Negatively labelling people blinds us to recognizing and changing the behavior that we are putting forth into our workplace universe, behavior that may be resulting in the resurrection of another age-old adage; what we put into something is what we get out. I am not suggesting that co-workers are perfect and we are always the problem, but what I am suggesting is that we are not perfect and our co-workers not always the problem. So, let’s all ingest some good old fashioned advice that is loosely buried in the sentiment “It’s not you, it’s me”, follow it up with a hearty dose of critical self-reflection, apply it to our most troublesome relationships at work, and stir. Continue to repeat recipe until perfected. After all, we can’t blame people for a bad meal (relationship) if we are the ones cooking, but we can certainly take credit for a good one.

The result will be:
• An increased awareness of our own participation in difficult relationships at work
• An increased ability to identify and change thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are aggravating relationship dynamics in the workplace
• An increased sense of enjoying people we work with in a more generalized way and a decreased sense of disliking them in a more specific and targeted way
• An increased capacity to lead our workplace in a healthier, more highly functioning direction as relationships are the foundation for the success of any workplace
• An increased feeling of workplace satisfaction, health, and happiness.

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Sheri Coburn

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

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