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Career Stuck? It May Be Because You "Fight Dirty" At Work
You may be familiar with the research that tells us that the best predictor of marriage success or failure is HOW couples manage their conflict.
Couples who "fight dirty" have a much higher divorce/separation rate than couples who deal with disagreements without inflicting emotional damage on the other.
What you may NOT know is that learning to "fight fair" is also important in your career advancement.
Fighting Fairly At Work Provides A Huge Career Advantage
Let's define fighting fair. When in a disagreement at work, your methods for dealing with it will create:
- a residue of negative emotional reactions
- no particular emotional residue
- a POSITIVE residue
Fighting dirty refers to methods for dealing with disagreements that create a negative emotional perception of you. Even if you WIN, or get what you want,
HOW you handle the situation is what determines how people perceive you. For example, even if you get your way, you may end up being perceived as "not a team player", or someone who is hard to work with, or even worse, someone with poor interpersonal skills.
Ultimately, people will often forget what the disagreement was about, but they will NOT forget how your techniques made them feel.
If you "fight fair" you reduce any negative emotional reactions people (the other party AND observers - managers). You will be perceived as handling conflict with grace, and will end up with either a neutral emotional residue, OR better yet, be seen as a person who is excellent under fire, a great team player, someone who is fair. That can make the difference in being promoted and being recognized as a valuable employee, or being perceived as someone not so deserving.
Principles For "Fighting Fair" At Work
There is a fairly broad set of skills to bring to bear on fighting fairly as we've outlined in: Our "Learn To Fight Fair Mini-Guide", but here are some basic principles to apply:
Focus on The Present And The Future, Not The Past
People who focus on what has happened in the past are perceived as blaming others, and tend to come across as bitter, or trying to even up the score. Once people view you that way, they will a) offer little help and b) have no interest in seeing you promoted or seeing you succeed.
Stop Sneaky Attacks And Remarks
In the heat of an argument it's easy to become sarcastic, and to use innuendo to try to pressure someone to "give in". Don't. Pay attention to HOW you are disagreeing, because its easy to fall back into childhood patterns.
A threat is not just something that involves your intent to do harm. It's also possible to threaten someone without intending it. For example, if you said: "Well, we'll see whether the senior VP agrees with me", that's an implied threat, particularly when coupled with a harsh tone. Or, "Fine, if you do that, then I'll do [whatever your response]." will often be perceived as a threat.
It matters little whether you intend to threaten. What matters is how it is perceived by the other party, AND observers, or your manager.
You Can Win But Still Lose
Particularly if your ego gets actively engaged, and you end up wanting to win, regardless of what it takes, you may, in fact, get your way. However, in the process of winning, you may end up alienating the very people that can help with your career advancement. Don't think only in terms of winning the argument. Think longer term, and how your tactics will create that "emotional residue, for good or for bad.
Fair Peacemakers Tend To Get Promoted. Aggressive Fire Starters Tend To Be Overlooked
While it is occasionally the case that nasty, aggressive conflict starters get promoted, it's much more often the case that your chances of career advancement increase a lot when you are seen as fair, graceful under pressure, constructive, and mindful of the relationships you create.
Nobody wants to promote, or give additional responsibilities to someone requiring extensive supervision because of a concern about their interpersonal skills. Managers don't want to "clean up your messes", or have to intervene.
Fire starters tend to be restricted in their activities so they can do less damage, that requires intervention.
What's worse is that if it happens that your lack of fair fighting skills is interfering with your career, nobody will tell you. You may never know, except for cryptic comments like: "You aren't as good a team player as you might be".
More Resources On Fighting Fair
Most of the guides available on fighting fair are oriented towards couples and families, but not to worry, because the techniques apply equally to work situations. Here's a few links.
Learn To Fight Fair LearnBytes Mini-Guide (Bacal & Associates)
Learning To Fight Fair Articles