Conflict in careers is an unavoidable experience. Situations occur in which difficult decisions have to be made; hence the conflict. The struggle occurs because each decision carries gains and losses. If one choice contained all the values that were important, there would be no conflict. For a successful resolution, it is important to fully evaluate the competing values. The two examples below demonstrate the most common values that pertain to career conflict.
David, Sheila and their baby:
David and Sheila’s conflict involves the value conflicts of salary and security. They are married, successful at their well paying jobs, and Sheila just gave birth to their first child. Prior to delivery, they jointly planned to place their baby in daycare once Sheila’s maternity leave was up. But since being home with her baby, Sheila is an emotional wreck at the thought of returning to work and leaving her baby. She wants to stay home and quit her job. David is resentful that she has broken their agreement, and is concerned about the impact her loss of income will have on their finances. Sheila secretly worries if being a stay at home mom will be as fulfilling as her career. They argue daily.
Melanie and her job:
The second example demonstrates the value conflicts of freedom in job, personal time, and challenge. Melanie attended an Ivy League school and landed a prestigious job with a great salary. Others in her firm have experienced layoffs, while she has received two promotions in the past 16 months. Yet she is struggling with her job satisfaction. Her prior vision of a satisfying career consisted of working in a prominent firm and earning a high salary. But now she feels that her talent of working with people is not being used, and the salary does not compensate for her stronger values of wanting to give back to her community. Her leisure time is diminished due to her long work schedule in her isolated cubicle, and she has lost the ability to have balance between work and her personal life. Instead, she feels she is surrounded by a culture of arrogance and insensitivity by her upper management colleagues striving towards values to which she does not attach importance.
Importance of Addressing Conflicts:
To not address these career conflicts openly and directly will likely result in things getting worse over time for Sheila, David and Melanie. They may express their anger, disappointment and fear inappropriately onto colleagues, family members and friends. Or, they will turn those feelings inward and develop somatic complaints, such as headaches, stomach pain, lethargy, and substance or food abuse. Their work performance level and moral at work may deteriorate.
Sheila, David and Melanie can come to a successful resolution in their career conflicts if they learn to work with the conflicts in a positive way. So can the many other people who experience careers conflicting with their family, personal, and romantic responsibilities. A positive resolution does not mean that each party will get everything they want. Rather, it entails having a safe environment in which each person’s values can be examined.
My techniques for resolving career conflicts involve several steps. The first involves getting more information about the issue, which helps in clarifying any misconceptions that have developed. For instance, Melanie, who believes she is isolated from interacting with her colleagues, might be happy if she can participate in a mentoring program for the lower level employees. This change might be sufficient to dissolve Melanie’s career conflict.
I also have clients evaluate additional options, to determine if there are alternatives not previously considered, can remove a conflict. Melanie may find that she can use her business skills to volunteer after work with the underprivileged through a community social service organization. Volunteering in this manner may provide such good public relations for her company that her employer will be supportive and accommodate her work schedule accordingly. She may in turn find herself satisfied with her job as it provides financially and also meets her personal values.
Looking at the feelings and associations behind values is important in determining the true strength and meaning each carries. All values are not equally important. Perhaps if Sheila was to determine that her reason for wanting to remain home full time is because the other women in the neighborhood are full time mothers, and she feared judgment from them, then she would be able to more honestly assess which decision was best for her. Individual’s cultural and religious backgrounds will impact on the meaning of each conflict.
Rather than having to choose between extreme decisions, my work with clients includes looking for options in the middle, which can provide clarity. Rather than exclusively describing the dilemma as being a stay at home mom or return full time to work, it would be helpful to consider if Sheila could work part time. Or work from the home. Or job share. Or could she and David move to a less expensive neighborhood, allowing her to stay home with their child.
Oftentimes I have my clients obtain feedback from others who have experienced the different options with which one is struggling. These people have ‘walked the walk’, and can provide realistic views on what it means to have made each decision under consideration. Perhaps by talking to someone who ‘walked away from it all’, Melanie can learn that lesser paying jobs with less prestige do not necessarily lend one more opportunities to serve the community.
When, in my life coaching sessions, the clients go through these steps and identify what is truly important in their life choices, and why, the path to conflict resolution becomes clear and relatively straight forward.