Basically, there are two different kinds of conflicts: task conflicts and emotional conflicts. Task conflicts center on what to do or how to do it. These conflicts often act as catalysts, motivating and inviting us to explore our differences. When we set out to resolve our task conflicts by engaging in dialogue and brainstorming we are often able to figure out the best ways to achieve common goals or reach wise decisions.
Emotional conflicts--or personality clashes--are the result of psychological dynamics that operate underneath the surface. These are the conflicts that occur when one or both parties to a conflict feel trivialized or devalued. Often, task and emotional conflicts will occur together or a task conflict can become misinterpreted and inflamed, creating suspicion, competition and emotional conflict.
The good news is that the conflict you are describing is a task conflict. If you are willing to approach your boss and your boss is open to hearing what you have to say, you can have a magnificent result--that includes increased respect and commitment. On the other hand, if your boss is not the kind of person who is open to working through a conflict you will do serious damage to your relationship. How well do you know this man? Can you predict his reaction?
Before you do anything, prepare. Make some notes about the situation and your feelings. Write about where you are, where you want to be and how you might get there. Write down some concrete examples that demonstrate your points. Consider the best, worst and probable outcome to your dispute.
Does your boss know that something is bothering you? When you are done writing you should know if you are willing to risk letting the relationship (and your job) go--or not. Remember, just like you cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube, you cannot take back your words once you have shared them with someone else. If you do decide to bring your concerns to your boss here is a plan to follow:
1. Be committed. Be willing to come to the table and stay there. Let your boss know that you are you committed to him and your job. Tell him--in your own words--"Because I am committed to you and my job, seeing this as a long term situation, I want to find solutions that work best for the business and for all of us."
2. Set the stage. Sit down at a time when you are both clear headed and able to give this important conversation the time and energy it deserves.
3. Speak from the heart. Do not point fingers of blame. Instead focus on finding a solution that works for everyone. This is collaboration.
4. Listen, listen, listen. Listen as if you are an outside observer with no prior knowledge of the situation. Twenty years in the mediation business has taught me that there are at least two sides to every story. You may be very surprised when you hear the rest of the story.
5. Give yourselves time to think and process the information.
6. Define the emotions. How much do the feelings of dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised or disrespected come into play? Sometimes, just defining these emotions is enough to resolve the dispute.
7. Don't leave things unresolved. If no immediate resolution is available, suggest that you sleep on it and meet again at a future date and time.
Elinor Robin, "The Relationship Mediator," has more than 18 years of experience in mediation while working within the public and private sectors.