Having been a freelancer for about 2 or so years now, I have been fortunate enough to maintain my work life drama-free. But I have to acknowledge that this was a deliberate choice. I became a freelancer precisely to avoid conflict in the workplace. I suppose that was a bit naive of me because conflict is so obviously inevitable in any work environment but I really wanted to try and minimize any kind of conflict until absolutely necessary.
That got me thinking. Is there any kind of redeeming value when anyone encounters any kind of conflict in the workplace? If so (because it would make sense that there would be), what are the things we can get out of it? And what kind of scenarios bring about these tension-filled interactions? So. To answer these questions, I wanted to look at the times I had encountered different kinds of drama (-RAMA because I'm still beks through and through) and what value I derived from them. I don't know. It could be of help to some of you who are like me, conflict-averse and kind of non-confrontational (CHAROT... I am sometimes). And also, it will serve as a reminder to me (like most importantly) to be unafraid of facing conflict whenever I inevitably do.
CONFLICT #1: When you work on something you don't believe in
I work in marketing. Marketing things, products, ideas, services and goods. My intention is obviously to sell consumers one of these things. And I always try to align what I believe to be true to a brand's promise. It makes things easier and simpler. Because if it's true for me, it must be true for like-minded people. But on more than one occasion, I would have to go outside of my belief system and try to convince people to buy into an idea I wasn't 100% comfortable with.
We've all been there, this sort of cognitive dissonance that we have to somehow resolve within ourselves. My patience has been tested too many times and I've carried out campaigns and I've had to see them through without fully believing in them 100%. It's part of the job I suppose, dealing with this cognitive dissonance. The battle between what you believe in vs. how you actually act.
I remember working on a product that promoted skin whitening. Now, most of the people who know me, know that I am a proud, brown Filipina. I mean, I go to the beach any chance I get. I love going to the beach. It's just one of those luxuries I can afford, living in such proximity to the sea and in a tropical country. Handling a product and trying to sell it, promoting this almost anglophillic insecurity was not (and still is not) something I wanted to do. But it was my job. What's a girl to do, right?
Eventually, the messaging of the campaign changed with the times (thankfully) and promoted better care for the skin instead of whitening. I was lucky that way. It was externally adjusted and I didn't have to incentivize changing my belief system or counterintuitively reassure myself that I was doing something good or limit my exposure to working on it and self-sabotaging the campaign in the process. I mean, I did. But not for very long. I was relieved that I didn't have to sit in that internal conflict for a long ass time.
So what did I get out of the whole ordeal and similar situations like it? I learned that consistency is something that one ought to strive for but adaptive adjustments can help in a person's ultimate growth. Which is what happened. I mean, the campaign mandate did change eventually in favor of something more palatable, but while I was selling whitening as a concept, I still needed to make certain concessions with myself and the ability to do this, the compromises I had to make while waiting, were indicators of a kind of resilience that I didn't know I was capable of. There's no perfect formula for doing your job but if there was one, being mature enough to realize that a job is only a job and not everyone puts value and a premium on your personal beliefs is a part of that formula. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up because it will eventually work out in the end.
CONFLICT #2: When you shit where you eat
We've all been here at one point or another. It's the common mistake of letting your personal life bleed into your professional life. This is something I'm somewhat of an expert on. (I've even written about it here) Early on in my career, I started a business with someone I was romantically involved with. And being the young ingenue (HAHA FEELING) that I was, I thought I could do it all. I thought I could be a big baws lady, calling the shots AND simultaneously be a good girlfriend. Long story cut short, what a rude awakening that was. Not only was it the perfect recipe for disaster for my relationship but it was also the root cause of the business' ultimate failure.
Now, I know not everyone is as idealistic--NAY---stupid as me. Some people go on with their lives without ever experiencing an office romance or relationship or hookup or whatever. Good for them. But this form of conflict could be with anyone in the office. It extends to friendships too. It could be with a coworker who becomes an eventual friend and your work is somehow affected because of your affinity to one another. Someone who is toxic and makes you toxic just by being with them. The opposite could also happen. Your toxic attitude and behavior affects their work. In any case, you end up with bad outcomes for work that is supposed to be independent of your personal interactions. Your reputation could suffer or the way you're viewed professionally by your bosses is tarnished just by association. Whatever the case is, the actual work, the good work you could be producing, just doesn't happen.
Learning that it's never a good idea to mix business with pleasure took some time for me to process. I was way in over my head. To a certain degree, it's good to always aspire to strike a balance between the two and it's a great thing to be able to have them both present, sure. But the moment things turn sour, it's important to be vigilant. There is absolutely no room to rest on your laurels. You need to make sure that no negativity affects your work whatsoever. Because when things are great in your personal life, your work can be just as great. And that's awesome. But when the opposite happens, you have to remember that your work still has to remain great in spite of the great personal turmoil you could be going through. Having a shitty day is not a good excuse to turn in shitty work. So you might as well limit any opportunities for your rough personal life to get in the way of the great work you can produce.
This is a lesson that is best learned by heeding the advice of people who have experienced it first-hand. This is a lesson that should serve as a cautionary tale. Like if you have the option to say no, JUST SAY NO. (Guyth, say it with me...self control) Don't give in to your base desires. It's a test of self-control but it is one that will ultimately make you better. On the flip side, if you think you're strong enough to handle all the repercussions that come with eating your shit at work, by all means, feel free to indulge. Buffet na yan! :D
CONFLICT #3: When you don't get along with clients
Everyone has a different style of managing clients and their expectations. Personally, I always like to please. I've always been somewhat of a people-pleaser (it's true, it's something that I'm trying to work on, really, I mean, LAWD KNOWS THIS IS A STRUGGLE FOR ME) but there have been times when I just can't help it. And unfortunately, I've encountered clients who recognize this and abuse this mercilessly, either to save money (by lowballing me) or pushing for a deadline that just isn't possible (to appease their own bosses). Whatever the case, conflicts do arise. When it's time to reveal to clients that their demands aren't feasible or their budgets are just too low, some of them just don't take it very well.
I remember having to work with a client who wanted a mobile application to be completed within a month without providing all the pertinent information and without approving any designs. Anyone who works on developing mobile applications or websites will know better than to start development without approved designs. It didn't help that this client was also pushy and liked to call me on weekends and holidays. It was also extra challenging because my superiors offered no concrete support (but more on that later). What is crucial here is to always counter-offer them something that is feasible and doable within the budgets they have. If there's any lesson that I learned from managing this kind of conflict, it's going into client meetings being more prepared than you need to be. You need to negotiate well with your team. If you're unable to meet certain deadlines, be ready with a step by step outline of when you will be able to deliver. There is absolutely no point in going to a meeting where you get your ass handed to you.
Another thing I learned to keep in mind is that you're in that project with your client together. As a team, damn it. They want you to do a good job. The should want you to do a good job. Their business depends on you delivering a good product to them. Communicate to them clearly that you will not be able to do a good job if they rush or short-change you; that it will be a disservice to their own customers if they half-ass anything. This should be reason enough for them to adjust their schedules or budgets. At the same time, do everything in your power to deliver the best service to them within a reasonable timeframe because it is your job. You don't need to get along to be able to work but your goals need to be aligned. That should be enough to drive the project to completion.
CONFLICT #4: When you don't get along with management
Ah yes. A common complaint for people who decide to leave their cushy little jobs is their working relationship with their bosses. No one is ever immune or exempt from unsavory situations like this. Anyone who has ever worked in an office (especially in Manila) has experienced this at least once. Some people handle it better than others. Some are a bit more tolerant in the way they deal with bosses who rub them the wrong way. Some just deteriorate into antimatter. While I'd like to say that I have always taken the high road, I'd be lying if I did. I haven't always been the most mature or level-headed employee. This is probably why I prefer working in isolation as a freelancer, removed from the intricacies of dealing with authority on a daily basis.
If you've read enough of my blog, you can probably deduce that I have very strong opinions and convictions about certain things. My work and leadership style is not for everyone. Having said that, I am #blessed (Yuck haha) to have worked in places where the good in management always outweigh the bad. But boy have there been bad. Like the pits level of bad. I've had bosses who would regularly tread the dangerous border of sexual harassment. I've had to deal with bosses who were misogynist and sexist. And then there were some who would be condescending and rude. Or would make us sleep in the office (WHAT EVEN) to meet a deadline while they'd be vacationing elsewhere. But again, I was never a perfect employee. I would find myself in victim-mode, woe is me, feeling sorry for myself and all that. I felt under appreciated. I resented the fact that some of my bosses would pit us employees against one another. I complained. I took my work so seriously that I was greatly affected when it was criticized (unhealthy, yes I know). Let's just say that in hindsight, I could have handled some situations better.
Obviously, there are times when confrontation-averse me would win. You need to learn to take the criticism, condescending or not, in the right place or not, well-intentioned or not, which was what I was doing. Any criticism about your work should be cause enough for some form of reflection. BUT, and this is a big but, I learned that if the work is fine and as it should be and the conflict is founded on something other than shoddy workmanship or unmet expectations that were unreasonably high, then I would let the other me take the wheel, the me that was unafraid of getting into a heated argument, the snappy, sassy alpha me. I wouldn't have to win any argument but knowing that I had stuck to my guns and fought back was always good enough for me.
I guess the thing that I learned in dealing with bosses I didn't get along with was knowing when to pick my battles. Know when to accept criticism. For all you know, you're just being a baby. And for a long time, I was being a baby. For all you know, you're just lazy and defensive and don't want to work. Know yourself well enough to know when you're being a whiny bitch and when you're actually correct. And if you are correct, great. Stand up for yourself. Leave your job, if need be. But ultimately, act on facts. Don't act on feelings. Deal with the conflict correctly and properly.
Again, this was a lesson that I had to learn the excruciatingly hard way. But that's so you, reader, don't have to! :D
Hindsight is always 20/20 and workplace drama does have its place. Conflicts should be welcomed because they're growth opportunities. You should avoid them, like, make sure you don't put yourself in precarious situations but if they're there, let them teach you lessons. It's part of it. If you make sure that your goal is constant self-improvement and you look at situations with humility and you just treat people like people, you're sure to make it through unscathed. :D Have any thoughts? How do you deal with conflict in the workplace? I'd love to hear from you! Sound off in the comments section below!
Shoutout to the person who gave me the idea about this article! You know who you are. Thank you.