Monday, December 5, 2011

Conflict or concerns at work? Deal with it.

Longtime readers of Intern 101 may have noticed a trend in how I recommend dealing with problems at work.  I suggest going right to the person with whom a reader is having a problem and talking it out with them, briefly but clearly.  This might seem a little like playing hardball for some interns.  We all fully realize that interns are by and large the easiest people to replace at a firm, so they're usually the last ones to confront problems or even stick up for themselves sometimes, especially in a crappy economy.  The fact is though that dealing with problems directly--even with bosses--can do so much to help rather than hurt an intern.

First of all, interns might be easy to fire or lay off, but firing or laying off anyone is generally a pain in the ass.  Confronting bad behavior or sticking up for yourself now and again isn't enough to really make someone want to go through the paperwork hassle that is employee termination.  And frankly, if a firm wants to fire you because you dared stick up for yourself, you really don't want to work there for a long time anyway.

Second and more importantly, there are many ways to confront people without being confrontational and to deal with problems without being a jerk.  There are many books out there on assertive communication, so check some out and find one or two that speak to you.  This one is my favorite and I use the skills constantly.  (Yes, the book is aimed at women but the skills actually work just as well for men.)

Third and most importantly of all, good communication skills and good conflict resolution skills are the kind of skills you need to be a great architect, project manager, and/or firm owner.  You've heard the phrase "dress for the job you want, not the job you have," right?  Well, having and using good communication skills is like speaking for the job you want, not the job you have.  I know plenty of very talented architects and designers who are being held back in their careers because they don't stick up for themselves and get run over all the time or conversely blow up or push people around and scream and shout.  When you model that you know how to handle yourself and can deal with uncomfortable situations, it shows your managers that you're able to handle more than just Revit drafting and looking up flashing details.

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