Got a problem? Rank it on a scale from one to ten, ten being worst. In fact, most people have only a handful of 10s because most of life is comprised of ones, twos and threes. Right?

For instance, maybe you’re sick of hearing about your co-worker’s cats every day or that your teammate constantly interrupts in meetings. These might be small annoyances, but when they are not addressed quickly they can grow into aggravating patterns and are no longer ones or twos. They actually start to seem like fives or sixes. Resentment, impatience and distance often ensue.

A bigger problem, however — maybe an eight  — might be that your boss expects you to cover for his absences from the office and handle his “creative” expense reports. It’s important to differentiate between a minor aggravation and a challenging problem.

If the situation is minor, either resolve it quickly or let it go. When you do face a significant conflict, remember the old adage: It’s not what happens that matters so much. It’s how you handle it, and what it means to you that matters.

Determine what you can do instead of expecting or hoping others will change. Focus on what’s correct and feasible. Ask yourself, “Is it more important to prove that I am right or to maintain a relationship?” What does this mean? If you think that something is ethically incorrect, but you want to maintain the relationship because you need your job, what do you do?

When the relationship is important to preserve, consider the following steps:

  1. Confirm that the situation coincides impacts your relationship and role responsibilities.
  2. Determine whether the issue is worthy of an investment of your time and energy.
  3. Identify the specific outcome you desire.
  4. Prepare to communicate your message clearly.
  5. Offer a constructive solution, or a plan for developing one before you raise the issue.
  6. Test the waters. You may want to discuss your proposed solution with a trusted and objective colleague.

Individuals who avoid dealing with small issues are unlikely to have the skills or the resolve to address significant problems.  Learn how to embrace conflict as an opportunity for positive change, especially with on-going relationships that matter.