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Look for Win-Win Solutions to Be Happy in the Workplace

A truly happy person will try to find the win-win solution at work. All types of work inevitably involve conflict. Why? Because people who work alongside one another are either striving to achieve the same goals — recognition and advancement — or they have different views about how things should be done at work. The conflicts themselves, it turns out, are not nearly as important as how you resolve them.

And, in doing so, you’ll invariably use strategies such as:

  • Competition: “I win — you lose. It’s that simple.”

  • Compromise: “It’s a give-and-take proposition. Each of us gets a little of what we want even though we don’t get all of what we want.”

  • Collaboration: “Why don’t we pool our resources and work together on this problem — be a team?”

  • Accommodation: “Whatever — we’ll try it your way this time. It’s not worth fighting about.”

Happy, satisfied employees are the ones who use a mixture of all these approaches to manage conflict.

Competition and happiness

Competition is a win-lose strategy for resolving conflict. Competitive employees attempt to gain power by winning arguments. Healthy competition involves “winning without intimidating” others. Unhealthy competition is about winning at all costs — it’s aggressive and ends up hurting others.

Competition can be an advantage (a) when it occurs in an adversarial situation like a court battle or a sporting event and (b) because it signals that the employee is fully committed to some important issue or outcome. In many work settings, competition is viewed as a sign of strength.

Overly competitive employees — those that invariably create a lot of unhappiness for themselves and those with whom they work — exhibit the following behaviors when there’s a conflict:

  • They direct personal criticism at the person with whom they’re having a conflict.

  • They argue, make demands, and threaten others.

  • They act with contempt — for example, roll their eyes or sigh while you’re trying to make your point.

  • They’re quick to deny responsibility.

  • They’re inflexible — it’s their way or the highway.

  • Even their humor is hostile.

Compromise and happiness

Compromise is a way of managing conflict in which each party both gains and loses something. Think of it as a trade-off, where nobody leaves empty-handed or unhappy.

Not convinced that compromise is really possible at work? Here are some examples of compromise in the workplace:

  • Edith needs Julie to stay a couple of hours overtime in order to finish a project that has a deadline. She knows Julie had planned to meet her boyfriend after work for a drink. Instead of telling Julie that she has to stay late, like it or not, Edith says, “I know you had plans and I hate to ask you to stay until we complete this project. But if you’ll agree this once, I’ll let you have an afternoon off later this week to compensate you. And I promise I won’t make a habit of this.”

    If Julie says yes, she’s giving up that after-work time with her boyfriend, but she’s gaining an afternoon off later; meanwhile, Edith loses Julie later in the week, but she gets Julie when she really needs her — now.

  • Katie wants a raise, but the budget is tight. Her boss tells her, “I’d love to give you a raise. But honestly, the money just isn’t there. What I can do is start giving you a lot more responsibility and authority about how things run around here, which will justify a big increase in your salary the next time around. Does that sound like something you can live with?”

Collaboration and happiness

When employees collaborate, they integrate their ideas and energies so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This happens because:

  • Collaboration generates new ideas. All parties feel freer to be creative in coming up with ways to solve problems and conflicts. No one idea or opinion dominates.

  • Collaboration signals mutual respect for all parties involved. People believe their feelings and ideas have value.

  • Collaboration requires a greater degree of commitment than other conflict management strategies like compromise and accommodation. Each employee feels a sense of true partnership — that is, not only are they part of the problem, they’re also part of the solution.

  • Collaboration requires a willingness to move with rather than against your coworkers. This means there’s less resistance, less tension in the process of finding a new solution to the conflict.

The next time you find yourself in conflict with someone at work, start out with the mindset that you’d like to cooperate with the other person. It increases the likelihood that you’ll reach a win-win solution and keep everybody happy.

Accommodation and happiness

Whatever is a powerful word. In conflict situations, where cooperation is the order of the day but there is no possibility of compromise or collaboration, try accommodation. Some people think of accommodation as just another word for giving up or giving in — which, in a highly competitive society, is unthinkable. But it’s also a strategy for reducing or eliminating conflict that expresses a desire for harmony.

The word whatever can have many meanings, for example:

  • Your way is fine; let’s go with that.

  • I just don’t want to fight about this.

  • I had my way last time — you can have your way this time.

  • This issue is not the hill I want to die on.

  • Obviously, this means more to you than it does to me.

  • I’m trying to be reasonable here.

  • Since you’ve got the upper hand, what’s the sense of fighting about this?

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