Conflict at work—whether with others or yourself—is inevitable. But how we choose to deal with it can be the difference between prolonged pain and the freedom to move forward with what’s important.

In a Wall Street Journal article, writer Sue Shallenbarger says that the trick is in choosing “which battles to go to war over.”

That’s the case in any conflict we encounter in life, I suppose. But the truth is, I don’t care much for the words “battle” or “war” in the workplace. I prefer to see conflicts as barriers that can be overcome through mutual understanding, not situations that make one person a winner and the other a loser.

This article was, however, a good reminder to step back and examine the nature of an issue before engaging in a possible confrontation.

I first ask myself: Does the problem actually matter to the whole organization? How many people is it affecting? Is it hindering the institution’s overall performance?

Next, is the ego driving the desire to engage in conflict? Will there actually be a negative outcome if the issue is avoided altogether? The answers to these questions are obviously crucial.

As Ms. Shallenbarger suggests, however, choosing to confront a barrier is rarely a simple decision. And forcing yourself to ignore a problem that may be causing you serious grief can lead to mounting frustration or worse.

It’s for this reason that I encourage myself and my colleagues to talk about perceived problems directly. I truly value when people speak their minds. Even if it’s uncomfortable at first, I find that once the problem is aired, a new level of understanding can be established that makes opportunities clearer and relationships stronger and more authentic. I do simply ask that when people bring up issues, they also try to offer suggestions for how to overcome them through conversation.

Ultimately, we owe it to our peers to do this—to empathize and try to see each other’s points of view, especially when we disagree. I’m grateful to the people who’ve done this for me in my career, and I’ve witnessed how this simple act directly contributes to the overall culture of trust, adaptability and effectiveness in a place.

Because, as I’ve said before, without that trust and adaptability, far less can be accomplished—especially in institutions that thrive on innovation.

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