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Navigating Workplace Challenges: Acceptance vs. Resignation

conflict acceptance vs resignation

Workplace challenges are an inevitable part of any job, and how we handle them can significantly impact our success and happiness at work.

There will always be moments of loss and disagreement in any relationship simply because we all hold different values, perspectives, experiences, and opinions. How we show up in those moments of difference can significantly impact our thinking, feeling, and acting.

The Consequences of Unaddressed Issues in the Workplace

Conflicts and disagreements don’t equal an elephant in the room. In some cases, we may overcome our avoidance but still be unable to resolve the dispute. There’s a common, limiting belief that a positive relationship doesn’t have much conflict, but a productive relationship is one where all parties can disagree openly, effectively, and respectfully. Those relationships recover quickly from disagreements and don’t linger in a conflicted state.

When disagreements are well-managed, relationships are elephant-free (or, at the very least, the relationships only encourage elephants to stick around for a short time). Effective relationships expect a fair and timely cycle of disagreement to recovery, making it easier to delve into necessary conflicts from the point of psychological safety.

Unlike conflict in an effective relationship, conflict in a relationship where elephants are present will likely lead to resentment, paralysis, or a feeling of resignation. When we don’t recover, repair, and move on more powerfully from disagreements, conflict becomes a barrier to success, and the elephant search needs to begin.

Negative workplace behaviors that can arise when issues are left unaddressed include

  • Resentment: When problems are left unaddressed, it can lead to resentment towards the person or group involved. This can manifest as passive-aggressive behavior, avoidance, or a lack of motivation and engagement.
  • Paralysis: Unresolved issues can paralyze decision-making and action-taking when left unaddressed. This can result in a lack of progress and a sense of stuckness.
  • Resignation: If problems go unaddressed, they can lead to capitulation and resignation. Feeling helpless, powerless, and lacking initiative can be symptoms of this.

Resignation Behaviors at Work: What to Look For and How to Respond

Resignation means giving up. It’s a reaction. Think of resignation as, “Well, it is what it is.” Resignation is admitting defeat, tolerating what has happened, and not attempting to find a solution.

Resignation behaviors at work can manifest in a variety of ways and can have negative consequences for individuals and teams. Some common resignation behaviors at work include:

Giving up on finding a solution: There may be a lack of effort in finding an answer or not asking for help.

Believing the problem is inevitable: Team members assume the issue is a permanent part of the work environment instead of trying to fix it.

Lack of motivation and engagement: Resignation can make you less motivated and engaged at work, which leads to less productivity.

Lack of effort or initiative: In some cases, resignation shows a lack of ambition or effort and an unwillingness to take on new responsibilities.

Leaders can cultivate a positive workplace culture by seeking additional support and resources, setting clear goals and expectations, and fostering open and honest communication. Leadership is essential to identifying root causes and finding mutually beneficial solutions to help move from a negative set of resignation behaviors into a space of acceptance.

What Does Acceptance of Workplace Circumstances Look Like?

Acceptance, on the other hand, is taking something that’s offered. It is an intentional choice when faced with certain circumstances.

You can think of acceptance as, “Okay, that’s what we have to work with.” Acceptance is acknowledging what happened and allowing us to move forward. Healthy disagreements don’t have to be about who’s right. The goal of disagreement should be to learn as much as possible.

Regarding workplace differences, acceptance is almost always better than resignation. It can result in positive outcomes and more productive relationships. Among the behaviors associated with acceptance in the workplace are:

  • Acknowledging the situation: As a team member or leader, never underestimate the power of recognizing, acknowledging, and validating current circumstances and accepting that you cannot change them at the moment.
  • Seeking additional resources and support: To find an effective solution to your issue, you may need to seek assistance and resources from different departments (or even outside your organization) as part of the acceptance process.
  • Maintaining a balanced attitude: The essence of acceptance is holding multiple possibilities. You have what you would like to see happen with what is actually happening. It’s acknowledging the situation, finding solutions rather than dwelling on issues, and honoring that situations and people can evolve.

The Importance of Psychologically Safe Communication in the Workplace

Managing differences and problems in the workplace requires open and honest communication. Finding mutually beneficial solutions to issues can be helpful when all stakeholders are involved in the problem-solving process.

An organization that fosters open and honest communication has several benefits:

  • Improved trust and transparency: Trust and openness are built when teams and organizations communicate openly and honestly. Doing so can create a more positive and collaborative work environment with a stronger foundation of trust.
  • Enhanced problem-solving: We can benefit from all stakeholders’ perspectives and experiences by involving them in the problem-solving process. In turn, this can result in more innovative solutions.
  • Increased accountability: Accountability encourages employees to learn from their mistakes and, hopefully, take responsibility for their actions. Ultimately, this can lead to better collaboration and heightened productivity.

Psychological safety at work can look like an understanding that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up or expressing oneself in the workplace. It is the sense that one can be themselves, express their thoughts and ideas, and ask for help without fear of negative consequences. There are several strategies to create greater psychological safety within your organization.

  • Encourage open dialogue: Team members can freely share their ideas. This helps create a safe and inclusive space for discussion.
  • Practice active listening: Aside from speaking openly, I also encourage people to listen actively to each other. We can nurture these behaviors through our Curiosity First approach to relationships. Listening carefully, asking clarifying questions, and demonstrating genuine understanding are all critical parts of this process.
  • Foster a culture of respect: It is paramount for leaders to create a culture of respect and inclusivity where everyone feels valued and heard.
  • Encourage constructive feedback: Create a safe environment for team members to give and receive constructive feedback.
  • Model collaboration and repair: Collaboration and teamwork should be modeled by leaders within an organization, fostering unity and shared goals. This starts with a willingness to repair relationships when harm occurs.

Seeking Additional Resources and Support in the Workplace

You can seek other resources and support if you struggle to navigate a disagreement or difference at work. It can help you to approach the situation from a solution-oriented standpoint.

At SNoWCo, we often call the practice of seeking out fresh perspectives “getting up on the balcony.”

Taking a different view of the situation can be helpful. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy explore this idea in their work on Adaptive Leadership. In their work, they describe how we often spend most of our time on the dance floor, only seeing what is immediately in front of us and around us. Getting on the balcony involves imagining oneself observing from a distance as if watching a show from the balcony of a theater.

From this perspective, it is possible to see patterns not visible on the dance floor. This view can be instrumental in identifying patterns related to a situation, as potential insights and solutions often lie within these patterns. Here are some practices to consider:

  • Designate someone on the team to be “on the balcony” during meetings and share observations and connections to previous interactions. For example, “X is coming up again, and it sounds familiar to Y from our last two meetings.”
  • At different points, invite the team to “get on the balcony” and reflect on what they see in themselves and the group.
  • Practice stepping “on the balcony” to observe the room’s energy, the nature of the discussion, and the dynamic between people. Make notes or share these observations out loud. “I’m on the balcony right now, and I’m observing. What do other people notice?”

Here is what we recommend most in our work with clients:

  1. Seek feedback and support from colleagues: Encourage team members to seek each other’s input and help. This aims to identify areas for improvement and facilitate collaborative problem-solving.
  2. Seek guidance from leadership: If you and the other party cannot resolve the issue at the team level, seeking leadership advice may be helpful. In addition to gaining an updated perspective, leadership and HR departments can often provide additional resources and support.
  3. Seek outside resources: A mediator, consultant, or coach may be helpful if team members and leadership cannot reach a solution internally. In addition to providing a neutral perspective, it can also offer specialized expertise.

Maintaining a Balanced Attitude in the Workplace

Collaboration and teamwork are fostered when a balanced attitude is maintained when workplace issues arise. Maintaining a balanced attitude can contribute to a more productive and enjoyable work environment. This allows us to be hopeful, connect with what we have control over while holding space for what feels difficult. There is, however, a need to be aware of “toxic positivity,” which can be dismissive, invalidating, and make problems more difficult. Instead of dwelling on the situation, find solutions.

Changing your mindset to a balanced one can be difficult when you’re frustrated by something you can’t control. Still, several strategies can help.

  • Take a break: It is helpful to take a break from the situation if you feel overwhelmed. You can use this time to clear your mind and refocus.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. Positively reframe your negative thoughts by recognizing them and rephrasing them.
  • Seek support: Support from friends, family, coaches, or mental health professionals can help you process your emotions and cope.
  • Focus on what you can control: Instead of dwelling on the things you can’t control, give your energy to identifying and nurturing the things you can. Your actions will be more effective if you feel empowered and in control.
  • Practice gratitude: You can shift your mindset by reflecting on what you’re grateful for. Make it a habit to reflect on the things that make you thankful every day.
  • Find ways to cope: Exercise, meditation, and journaling can help you cope with frustration and maintain a positive attitude. And I’ll always advocate for intentional periods of rest.

It is helpful to recognize that there will always be things that are meaningful to us but are not as significant to others. That is just the reality of the situation. There may be conversations you are willing to have that may be too difficult for others. Ultimately, only you know where you are comfortable compromising or accepting.

Sometimes we feel strongly about an issue. However, if we step back and take a different view of the situation, we may realize it is not worth being as heavily invested and or spending as much emotional energy. For example, we may decide to work with this person and try to make the absolute most of the situation.

On the other hand, there may be times when we have to speak up and stand up for what we believe in, even when it is difficult because the consequences of remaining quiet are far worse.

Important Aside: I never want you to accept a genuinely toxic or damaging situation to your mental health if you can do something different.

If you must tolerate a situation like this because the time to change is not right, consider talking with a coach or mental health professional. They can help you process the experience and protect your mental health until you get out of the situation.


Check out Sarah Noll Wilson’s best-selling book Don’t Feed the Elephants! to learn more about acceptance and resignation. These themes are explored in this powerful book, along with valuable insights and strategies for coping with difficult situations. Don’t Feed the Elephants! is available in most major bookstores.

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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