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10 Tips to Choosing Your (Workplace) Battles Wisely

Before you choose battle, consider these workplace etiquette tips to strive for peace. [TWEET]

While we are all cut from the same cloth, that cloth comes in many different shapes, colors, sizes, and perspectives. It's the cloth that connects us, yet makes us each unique. In an ideal world, we'd all celebrate that uniqueness with an appreciation that if we were all the same, the world would be a pretty boring place. While I see many who do appreciate this, in many instances, this appreciation stops when someone disagrees with them, turns on them, or isn't on their side of the fence, so to speak.

Yes, people can be challenging, but there's no escaping them at work, or outside of work for that matter. Given that many jobs involve working with others, you might find you don't have a shortage of concerns, frustrations, conundrums or other workplace issues. I'll be the first to admit that as much as I'd like to think I could stay calm and relaxed in even the toughest of scenarios with co-workers, there were times where I had to calm myself down, bite my tongue, and turn to others for support. With time, we acquire plenty of tools to effectively deal with difficult work scenarios and maintaining proper workplace etiquette, but still, things happen, and sometimes we're put on the spot in a tough situation where it's natural to react in a not-so-perfect way.

In the end, it's how we decide to handle the situation overall that matters, which also means being selective about what's worth fighting for or speaking up about. Below I've shared some of the insights and workplace etiquette tips I've found to work for people when it comes choosing workplace battles wisely and how to deal with them if battle you must.

1. Use discernment

There will be times when you do need to take further action to deal with challenging workplace issues or individuals at work. Take some time to think it over to discern between the challenges you truly need to give more energy to vs. the ones you can overlook and quickly move on from. For example, if something is negatively impacting your work performance, then coming up with a plan of action to deal with the issue is wise. If ethics or discrimination are coming into question, then this would be another example where I'd suggest you take the issue to a superior, someone you trust, or through the channels provided in your company's policies and procedures for handling such items.   

2. Identify that "safe" person to which you can turn

Whether it's a friend, trusted co-worker, mentor, or personal coach, identify someone you completely trust that will allow you the space to vent when you need to. This person will hopefully be someone who can also help you determine what workplace issues are worth pursuing further, and which ones you need to let go of.

3. Ask for guidance

If you're struggling with conflict or a possible "battle" at work, consider speaking to a manager or someone in Human Resources who might be able to advise you on how to best handle the situation with proper workplace etiquette. The list of people mentioned in item 2 above could also play this role, though the person you seek guidance from isn't always going to be the person you would "vent" to. In other words, you might vent and seek guidance from a mentor, but you would likely only seek a manager out for guidance and not to vent.

4. Agree to disagree

It's amazing to me how we can all be sitting and watching the same interview, show, or movie, yet we can each be impacted by it in different ways with different viewpoints to discuss. We all experience things differently and have different perspectives. As I mentioned earlier, the world would be a boring place if we all thought the same things and reacted similarly in different scenarios. When we disagree with someone else, it's rarely about right or wrong, but instead about a difference of opinion. With workplace issues, agree to disagree and move on.

5. Take the high road

When you have an issue with a coworker or manager, always take the high road to handle the situation with as much grace and tact as possible. In other words, don't talk poorly about someone else or share information that is no one else's business. You'll appreciate others doing the same for you, and it makes you look bad when you attempt to make others look bad.

6. Stand your ground

When you have a disagreement with someone, choosing to let it go doesn't mean you're choosing to be a doormat, either. It's OK to be clear on what you believe, share your perspective on a matter, and to be honest about it. At the same time, it doesn't mean you battle it out because you're "right" and the other person is "wrong." Consider the idea that you could both be right, and move on (refer to "agree to disagree").

To reiterate here, if you truly believe discrimination, harassment, or ethics are coming into play, then taking action is appropriate. Whether it's speaking directly to the person you have a concern with, speaking to Human Resources, or talking to your manager, take steps to ensure you're comfortable in your work environment while following proper workplace etiquette, of course.  

7. Determine a plan of action

When you determine that you need to take action to deal with workplace issues, avoid reacting or responding too quickly. Give yourself some time to decide on the best approach. Also, if it's an emotionally charged issue that just happened, then you'll want to give yourself some time to come back to an emotional balance—at least 24 to 48 hours (or longer if time permits and you need it)—before taking action. Who's the best person to speak to about the concern? How will you approach him or her? What personal result or outcome would you like to see? Think through questions such as these before moving forward if at all possible.  

8. Don't let concerns fester

I've seen it happen—a person has ongoing issues with someone else but does nothing about it to the point that it negatively impacts their work. Then, one day, the person with the issue blows up like a volcano erupting, and the other person has no idea why. As reported in a 2014 WSJ article, psychologist and executive coach Dr. Shelly Reciniello shared that people "kick the dog, go into denial, get depressed or anxious, quit their jobs, blame themselves—they do all kinds of things except deal with what has to be addressed." It's common for people to want to avoid confrontation, but it's not always the best approach.

When you have a concern or issue with someone, it's often best to nip it in the bud sooner rather than later by speaking to him or her about it. Or if you prefer not to confront the person, talk the issue out with someone so you have room to vent and things don't get heated or fester up for you (refer to "identify that "safe" person to which you can turn").

9. Mind your own business

This goes somewhat hand in hand with "take the high road." One way to avoid workplace issues is to mind your own business and to realize your business is no one else's business either. There's no reason to concern yourself with what someone else is doing unless it's negatively impacting your work or work environment. It's good to use caution and proper workplace etiquette when sharing personal details about yourself with others, as well, unless you're sitting in the cubicle next to your best friend (and even then, you might want to wait until you're outside of the workplace to dish juicy details or vent).  

10. Attempt to keep your focus on work and productivity

Per a press release on PR Newswire, a 2014 survey commissioned by Workfront (formerly AtTask), showed that almost four out of 10 workers surveyed, or 39 percent, said that lost productivity was among the most common consequences of conflict. This isn't surprising considering that conflict takes energy to deal with and resolve, which means it can negatively impact your work productivity. When you're in the midst of a "battle" or conflict, it can be easy to get caught up and lose focus, especially when you're deciding how to deal with the situation. It's natural for this to happen to some degree, and though it's best to deal with the situation sooner rather than later, you don't want it to consume you. Do what you can to keep your energy focused on the bigger picture, like your responsibilities at work and other things that matter to you, so you're not frustrated even more down the road.  

From co-workers stealing your clients, to those who want to make themselves look better by making others look bad, workplace conflicts happen for a variety of reasons. Speaking up about the issues in one way or another might be best, or letting the issues go and moving on might be best because it's not worth your time and energy to "battle" it out. Use good judgment, proper workplace etiquette, and seek guidance if needed. Each scenario and individual are different. What's important is that you acknowledge any issue you might have and decide the best way to deal with it.

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