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Workplace conflict and knowing when to let things go


I had a great conversation the other day with a seasoned and accomplished leader (let’s call him “Rob”) who’s been in a tough spot for a while.

Rob was feeling stuck at work with a boss that took the credit for all of Rob’s hard work. It is a big source of frustration, and Rob couldn’t see a way out. This has been going on for a long time, and although it doesn’t seem to be affecting his performance, Rob is beginning to wear down.

Hard to believe, but Rob has a very good relationship with this manager, and he’s talked to the manager about this issue. Unfortunately, it’s become obvious that the boss isn’t going to change his ways. Rob was at the end of his rope but without a place to land. He was beginning to become depressed as he thought ahead to years of the same feeling that he wasn’t getting credit for the good things he was doing.

When Rob and I brainstormed his options together, I could sense that Rob was starting to see some openings for renewal, one of which seemed like the right thing for him to do.

Rob decided that he was going to let go of all the bad feelings he got when his boss took the credit. He was tired of feeling the way he did. So he decided to stop being frustrated and worn down about who gets credit, and simply let go of his feelings about the issue.

Rob recognized that he couldn’t change the boss’s behavior, so he decided to work on himself. Letting go might seem simple, and some might consider it to be playing small. But Rob feels it is the right thing for him to do at this time. I could feel his mood lighten and knew he was on his way with this thinking. There may well be bigger things in the works for Rob in terms of dealing with this, but his ability to stop clinging to a need to be recognized is a first step; other options just aren’t possible for him at this time.

I learned a lot from Rob in this decision he made to let go, and you can, too.

There is plenty of negativity to cling to in our organizations: that nasty e-mail, the colleague who is playing politics, and the senior executives who just don’t get it, to name a few that you might be familiar with. Every time you let these things get under your skin, you weigh yourself down a bit more. Your heart hardens, you become focused solely on what you want, and you forget that you are responsible for setting an example and for leading with grace and dignity.

Noticing those things that weigh you down is the first step to freedom. Being intentional about seeing the things that get under your skin and then letting them go may sound like a downer, but if handled well, they can be the beginning of a new way of leading for you, one with more positivity and energy than you’ve experienced. You say you love your job? Then experience the love enough to let go of the things that you can’t do much of anything about.

There isn’t a secret to letting those things go you just have to do it. If it helps, take a few deep breaths and imagine those things that bother you dropping through the floor or flowing through you without getting stuck and clinging to your heart. Resolve that you won’t let those bad feelings about things that don’t matter or you can’t change weigh you down, and you might notice how much lighter you feel.

All of those annoyances, big or small, will ultimately have a negative effect on your leadership if you let them. Put them into context with your higher purpose of leadership and all of the other things you want to accomplish. Then, deliberately let them go. Your ability to lead with grace and dignity while growing and developing into an even better leader depend upon it.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.


Reprinted with permission from Smartblog on Leadership.

2 Responses to “Workplace conflict and knowing when to let things go”

  • Deb Buchholtz:

    Great advice, Mary Jo. My father taught me this (or at least tried to do so) when I was very young. While it’s a very simplified version of your article, it’s helped me many times. He basically summarized by saying, “There are things in life you can control, and things you cannot. Don’t complain about either of them – if the problem is something you can’t control, don’t expend energy worrying about it… let it go. If you can control it, put your energy into solving the problem (and not complaining about it.) One might say much of life is about deciding which battles to fight (internally and externally) and which to forget.

  • Greetings Deb, and thanks. Your father was wise to teach you that at such a young age, and you’ve provided a great short summary of my post! Some of the comments on the blog where this first appeared were quite judgmental about this person and felt this was the wrong choice for Rob. But it was HIS choice, and that’s what’s important – not mine. And he’s feeling so much better about the situation.

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Mary Jo Asmus
Mary Jo
A former executive in a Fortune 100 company, I own and operate a leadership solutions firm called Aspire Collaborative Services. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. I am married, have two daughters, and a dog named Edgar the Leadership Pug who exemplifies the importance of relationships to great leadership.
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