Workplace Conflict: One Woman's Story
Sleepless nights, headaches, stomach pain can all result from unresolved conflicts at work.
Joy turned on the news as the anchor began a segment on a local 'bad boss' contest. The story touched a nerve.
“Think I should write in?” Joy asked her husband.
“Not if you want to keep your job,” Tim replied.
The anchor ticked off a list of complaints filed by local listeners. Fired for being sick. Unpaid overtime. Sexual harassment. Obsessive-compulsive behavior. Although Joy’s situation paled in comparison, it grew more intolerable by the day. Sleepless nights, headaches, stomach pain—the mounting list of symptoms scared her. She even experienced a panic attack, her first in nearly 20 years. And that’s not all. She and her husband fought nearly every day that week. Something had to give!
Joy loved her job, but recently had considered quitting. Her easy-going boss had received a well-deserved promotion, leaving her with a new supervisor—one that Joy found challenging to work for.
One morning, Joy’s supervisor confronted her about a complaint lodged against her by a co-worker. “Joy, instead of emailing team members about the project, just walk down the hall and work out the details in person,” she said. “People are complaining.”
Joy struggled with an “invisible disability” that sometimes made walking difficult and painful. Recent stress in the office had caused her symptoms to flare. In fact, she spoke with her doctor, who cautioned her to “pace” herself and to “limit the amount of walking” she did until the flare subsided.
When she tried to explain her limitations to her boss, she just did not understand and responded harshly. Crushed, Joy called her husband sobbing during her lunch hour. “Tim, I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to quit!”
Tim listened patiently and said, “Joy, you’ve tried to talk with you supervisor and she didn’t hear what you were saying. I think you should take it to the next level. Why not talk with human resources to see if they can help?”
Joy agreed to meet with human resources.
Prayer and Preparation
The director of human resources suggested she schedule a meeting that she would mediate with her boss and her boss’ supervisor. In the days leading up to the meeting, Joy spent time in prayer, asking God to reveal those sinful attitudes in her life that contributed to the conflict. She confessed her pride, her rebellion and her anger that recently had begun to seep out in sarcastic comments. She asked for the women in her Bible study to pray for her.
Joy prepared practically, too. She asked her doctor for a letter, describing her illness, her limitations and ways she could work around them. Further, she copied portions from a book her doctor had given her, explaining her condition, how to manage it and how to remain productive at work.
When the day of the meeting arrived, Joy was ready.
Joy Speaks Up
After the human resources director opened the meeting, she invited Joy to voice her concerns. She began, “I enjoy working for this organization. I look forward to helping you meet your objectives for many years to come. I admit that I’ve struggled with the changes at the office. I’ve been frustrated and angry and I’ve allowed that to spill over into my relationship with you and my co-workers. I’m sorry. It was unprofessional.”
“I understand my co-worker’s frustration at how my disability limits my personal interaction,” she continued. “It frustrates me, too. But as much as I’d like to change it, I can’t. However, I’d like to give you a little more information about my illness so that we can work together to resolve the problem. I’m confident we can reach an agreement that meets your objectives, yet takes into consideration my limitations.”
For the next half hour, Joy shared with her boss and others in the meeting the information she had brought with her, handing each a copy. As Joy spoke, she saw her boss’s face soften.
During the conversation, Joy acknowledged her boss’s preference that she work with team members in person. “On days when I’m having problems walking, perhaps team members can come down to my office,” she suggested. "On other days, we’ll meet in theirs.”
“And on days that’s not possible, maybe you can pick up the phone and talk with team members rather than e-mailing,” interjected her boss.
“Of course!” said Joy.
The meeting concluded and both had what they needed. Joy felt validated and heard and that her supervisor had a new understanding of her illness.
While the meeting addressed Joy’s immediate concern, she continued to struggle with aspects of her boss’ management style. She continued to pray about the situation and asked members of her Bible study to pray as well.
A few month’s later, there was a second reorganization. Joy was placed under a different supervisor, one whose management style worked well for her and which gave her an opportunity to gain new skills.
“If I had quit when I wanted to, I would have missed this opportunity to gain new skills,” Joy explains. She loves her job and looks forward to going to work each day. “It’s the most satisfying job I’ve had in my entire professional career,” she says.
Copyright 2008 Mary J. Yerkes. Used with permission. All rights reserved.