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Breezing Through the Aftermath of a Conflict

Posted in: Dealing with Fellow Scientists

When working very closely with a team of people in the lab, you will have disagreements leading to conflict. That’s just human nature, hence the origin of a common phrase, “Can’t we all just get along?” If you are lucky, you will be able to resolve the conflict. But then the question becomes, how will this affect your lab relationships? How do you deal with the aftermath, which includes the feelings of awkwardness or feeling like you are an outcast and alone?

Below are 4 tips on how to do just that.

Be Prepared for Change

Many times when conflicts occur, and appear to be over, some people’s reaction is to immediately pick things up where they left off. However, each case is not the same. In some instances, you may be able to resume your relationship with the person/s you had a conflict with without missing a beat. In other cases, you may be disappointed if you expect things to go back to the way they were. Why? Because, it is not always easy to forgive and forget. In addition, your colleagues may need more time to deal with the situation. In the best case scenario they will eventually come around. However, you should also prepare for the worst-case scenario addressed in the next tip.

Be Friendly Even If You Are Not Best Friends

Despite encouragement towards having friends in the lab, you must remember that it is not the reason you are there. Your enrollment in a graduate program or completion of a postdoctoral fellowship must remain your focus at all times. So, after a conflict, if you lose friends, do not allow it to bother you to the point of not being able to do what you set out to do. Again, you are a graduate student/postdoctoral fellow first, then a colleague. Your work must come first. If a friendship comes out of that, then that is awesome. Otherwise look at it as only having a working-relationship with the common goal of making great scientific contributions.

Always Behave Professionally at All Times

During times of conflict, emotions flare and everyone is usually on guard, putting their defenses up. Remember that no matter how you feel, you must not let your emotions overpower your brain. You must still behave professionally while working towards accomplishing your goal, finishing grad school or your post-doc. So, as a team member, you must continue doing your work and most importantly, you must provide support for all members of your team, even the person/s that you had a conflict with. Do not let your emotions get the best of you!

Don’t Keep Talking About the Conflict

An important step towards putting the conflict behind you is doing your best to stop talking about it. Even when your co-workers or friends want to discuss it, you should try your best to change the conversation. You see, by continuing to discuss it, you only hinder your ability to come to peace with a situation that has already been resolved. Even if you do not completely agree with the way things were handled, you have to respect the agreement you made during the resolution phase, and stop talking about it. This includes not mentioning the conflict to any new team members. In fact, telling a new lab-mate that was absent during the time of the conflict is like rehashing it. You would only be putting the new team member in an uncomfortable situation and would be forcing them to choose sides before even getting the opportunity to make their own assessments. You do not want to be the cause of division, so… Don’t Do This!

My wish is that you do not ever have to worry about any conflicts or the unpredictable repercussions of one. But, in the event that you find yourself dealing with the crazy aftermath of conflict resolution, these tips will help you to refocus and rebuild your work-relationships.

Best of luck!

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