How to Know If You Should Stay or Go
One of the heartbreaking findings in the World Workplace Conflict and Collaboration Survey was the number of people who said if they were faced with this workplace conflict again, they would quit, or quit sooner. Or as one guy from Denmark warned, “If you meet a psychopath at work, run!”
If you’ve been following our recent research and writing, you know we’re working on a book to empower you to deal with conflicts better and faster (Harper Collins, Spring 2024). We hope to significantly expand your range of choices beyond “just quit.”
And, we’re not naïve. There are some situations you can’t save and some people who won’t engage, even with a well-spoken powerful phrase. Sometimes “quitting” the situation, the person, or even the job, is the best choice.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re on the Fence about Quitting a Workplace Conflict
How do you know if you should walk away from a conflict at work? Or even quit your job? Here are a few powerful questions to help you decide.
1. Have I tried?
This question is deceptively simple. It is so easy to get fired up, have an imaginary conversation in your mind, get frustrated, and dismiss the other person as toxic, hopeless, and not worth your time. But in all that thinking and stewing, you never actually had a conversation.
When you make a genuine effort to address a workplace conflict, you always come out ahead. Either the situation improves (that’s a clear win) or you gain critical information that you didn’t have before. It may be that your boss is truly an incompetent jerk who got promoted above their ability – but you don’t know that until you have the conversation.
If you don’t try, nothing changes. So, answer this one honestly and give yourself the gift of a better outcome – either because the conflict improved or because now you have certainty about what you’re facing. If you’re at a stalemate about something you can’t leave alone, it might be time for a carefully planned exit.
2. What do I gain or lose by quitting?
Some of the situations described in our research felt like a scene from a movie, where our hero or heroine reacts in one bold, spontaneous move, “Well then I quit!” Most of the time, a wiser move is to take some time and objectively consider the pros and cons. Talk with a good listener who can help you think this through.
3. Is the workplace conflict impacting other areas of my life?
If you’re sick, exhausted, or crying in the paws of your labradoodle every night, it might be time to remove yourself from the toxic situation.
4. Do I feel good about how I’m showing up?
If you’re reading this article, you’re clearly interested in finding solutions. If you’ve detoured off the high road and started thinking “When did I become the jerk?” that might be a sign it’s time to stop engaging. Destructive behavior can be remarkably contagious.
5. Is conflict a pervasive organizational problem, or is it limited to one or two people?
Quitting is one approach if your boss is a psychopath. Alternatively, you could also document the issues and call HR. We’ve both survived some toxic bosses and co-workers over the years. Plus, you can learn a lot about what not to do and how not to behave from folks like this.
6. Is there a pattern?
If you find yourself in conflicts that rhyme over time, it could be there’s something about your approach or behavior at play. For example, if people are constantly stealing credit for your ideas, or shutting you down in meetings, you might need to advocate for yourself. If the conflicts seem to follow you, quitting is likely not the answer.
7. Is there an alternative path to accomplish my goal?
Back in my corporate days, I (Karin) had a deep, values-based workplace conflict with the way a very senior leader was treating people—which came to a head with what we’ll call the “TCCI (Toxic Courage Crushing Incident).
My boss, seeing the anger and frustration on my less-than-poker face, warned me, “If you care about your career, you won’t say a word.” Now, I knew my boss cared about me and my career. I also knew she wasn’t wrong about the prudence of shutting up at that moment—after all, there’s a difference between courage and stupidity.
I didn’t say a word, at least not to that senior leader, and not in that moment of workplace conflict.
But as it turned out, I found myself with an abundance of words. The Sunday after that TCCI, I started my Let’s Grow Leaders blog. After searching my soul and writing nearly every day for fourteen months, the blog had a significant international following, and I started getting asked to keynote speak and write a book. My tribe encouraged me to start my own gig —which is how we found one another, wrote a book, fell in love and now grow human-centered leaders on every continent (except Antarctica). Learn more about our story here.
If you’re faced with a conflict where the stakes feel too high, consider if there’s something deeper to learn about yourself, your values, and what you are meant to do next. Or as an old friend of mine, Bill, is fond of saying “Never waste a good ‘mad’.”
Your turn. What would you add? How do you know when it’s time to quit a workplace conflict?