Work Stress and Workplace Conflict: Dealing With A Difficult Job Environment

by Jacques Sprenger on 2009-08-1911

Do you think you’ve got a tough job? How do you face difficult people or tough situations at your workplace?

Most work places are pressure cookers where stress and conflict are commonly endured. How many of us find ourselves burned out several months after the honeymoon phase at a new job is over? Job burnout is a common consequence of a tough work environment, and it’s something we certainly want to avoid. But what happens if you’re particularly sensitive to the politics that take place around you at work? Unfortunately, it’s something that’s a fact of work life for many employees; office politics is something that many of us have to learn how to deal with in order to ensure our longevity and success at the office (wherever that may be).

So how many of us have some work war stories to share? In my case, one of my colleagues at school is a young teacher, barely 23 years old. She’s a highly sensitive girl, so whenever she receives any form of criticism, no matter how constructive it is, she can’t help but run off to cry in the restroom. This is just one of many examples of people who simply haven’t learned how to handle difficult situations in the working place.

workplace stress, work conflict
Image by MSNBC

How Do You React To Work Stress and Workplace Conflict?

While co-workers are sometimes supportive, on many occasions they may secretly enjoy seeing you in trouble with the boss, possibly sharing the erroneous belief that your sorry plight will benefit them in some way. Then there are those other employees, who can’t help but spend their time at work looking over their shoulders, constantly feeling paranoid, wondering how well they’re doing and how much they’re pleasing their bosses.

The fact is, our reactions to confrontations vary, depending on each person’s temperament and each individual’s personal agenda and position. In the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”, the boss is simply immune to criticism, a fault that will eventually cause the company to lose money since nobody dares to oppose her decisions. How then should we handle difficult situations in the work space?

6 Ways To Deal With A Difficult Job Environment

1. Work on your self-esteem. A worker who has a good understanding of their value to the company will be able to handle confrontations without falling into despair and without losing faith in themselves.

2. Dialogue. Ask your boss for a chance to talk privately whenever he or she chides you publicly for making a mistake. Communicating your concerns to your supervisor and offering to improve your track record while reminding them that a private conversation is something you’d appreciate, could be effective. Try to aim for a give and take at work with your boss and colleagues: a positive approach will have a better chance at diffusing any conflicts that are brewing. When you’re given a chance, try to put yourself in a positive light, say by giving concrete evidence of your efforts (e.g. if you’ve gone on training classes or finished projects ahead of schedule, remind your superiors about this).

3. Reach a decision. If the boss seems to be an unrepentant dictator who apparently will never change, make up your mind whether you are willing to take his/her tyranny much longer. After all, you’ve got free will and choices to make. It may be time to leave your job if you believe you won’t be seeing any changes to your current environment.

4. Move on emotionally. Do not let negative emotions ruin your mental stability. Pain, sadness, anger, humiliation and frustration are normal, to a point. Do not dwell on the past unless you want to become permanently stressed. Don’t let anything or anyone cause you any more stress — it’s unhealthy! Roll with the punches and go on enjoying life.

5. Remain calm during confrontations. Take deep breaths to avoid becoming emotional. Martial arts teaches us to keep our cool in a fight; don’t be the one to get upset. If your nemesis sees that they are not getting to you emotionally, they will eventually quit and maybe even apologize.

6. Surround yourself with good energy. Seek the company of those who like and appreciate you whether at work or in your personal life. You might want to talk to a former teacher you hold in high esteem; or to a minister at your church. Forget “shrinks”. They cost a fortune and are not likely to help you solve anything; you can get much better advice from persons you admire and respect.

As we learn to handle difficult situations, we also grow in experience and wisdom, which are qualities that will weigh heavily in life’s experiences. We become more mature when we examine ourselves — a technique called “introspection” — during which we actually sustain an internal dialogue. Let us practice this ability in order to grow more mature and more successful in our interpersonal relations.

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Writer's Coin August 20, 2009 at 4:16 am

I love talking about this topic, not exactly sure why. But these are all great tips of dealing with this kind of stress. I think knowing exactly what value you bring to the table is key. We’re all a little paranoid sometimes, but being clear about what you do and your value goes a long way.

Data Entry Services August 20, 2009 at 4:41 am

I believe the economic situation has contributed to more stress in the workplace also. Many are toughing it out in bad work environments because they know job possibilities are limited and unfortunately, there may be some companies/bosses taking advantage of that. It’s a two way street, the employer deserves conscientious, hard-working employees and the employee deserves a supportive reasonable working environment.

J.N.Urbanski August 20, 2009 at 9:10 am

I agree with DES. I’m actually having this exact experience currently with one of my bookkeeping clients. She keeps her employees in a state of disarray by constantly changing her mind, continually criticizing them and blaming her own mistakes on them, pitting them against each other and letting them know that there are plenty of other people willing to do their job for less money. It’s fascinating to watch, but her employees walk a fine tight rope. It does not behoove her to run her business like this yet she persists, taking full advantage of the bad New York City economy and job market. Her business suffers because her employees waste so much of their precious time trying to keep up with her.

J.N.Urbanski August 20, 2009 at 9:12 am

And, for me, the timing of this post couldn’t possibly be more apt – it’s uncanny!

Todd @ Personal Finance Playbook August 20, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Keeping your cool is essential. If there’s something you really want to say that you know is going to cause a chain of events you might not like – wait a day and see if it’s still important enough to say. Even if you end up saying it, your approach will be better than when you’re bursting with emotion.

Tunes August 24, 2009 at 1:48 am

Avoiding conflicts in the workplace is unrealistic, we are all people and all of the hard work at some point reaches a boiling point …

Grampa Ken: Social Fix August 24, 2009 at 7:11 am

If we resign ourselves to the fact that the situation is not going to change we can move on. Acceptance also is a consideration for many such circumstances in life, including marriage. An ongoing irritating situation can become a non issue with some degree of resignation. This does not sit well with many people I know, but with the more difficult circumstances we can ask ourselves, why is this person like this?

“It’s hard to have one’s watch stolen, but one reflects that the thief of the watch became a thief from causes of heredity and environment which are as interesting as they are scientifically comprehensible; and one buys another watch, if not with joy, at any rate with a philosophy that makes bitterness impossible.” – Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)

Kevin@OutOfYourRut August 24, 2009 at 11:38 am

Along the same lines as Grandpa Ken, I think it helps to keep your perspective about why you’re working–to pay your bills, to support your family, to enable you to enjoy activities outside of work. If you can somehow keep all of these deeper objectives in the front of your mind, it can make a difficult work environment a bit more tolerable.

The day to day stress won’t go away, but at least you’ll know the bigger picture reasons why you endure what you do.

Ann August 25, 2009 at 3:11 pm

These are great tips in dealing with stress, workers will be able to complete their tasks well. They will be able to refresh their minds, gather their thoughts, and refocus on things that need to be done.

brooklynchick August 31, 2009 at 7:57 am

Great ideas, but I must disagree about “shrinks.” I’ve found therapy super-helpful in managing work and other stress.

PurpleOne December 5, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Good point about self-esteem helping you to be able to hold up better in a tough work environment. When the politics at my job are getting particularly bad, if I can remind myself that my job is important and that I’m valuable, I’m able to let more of the politics roll off me. Everyone has a limit though and no matter what, there’s only so much that you can take.

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