Conflicts are inevitable in the workplace. However, Abraham Lincoln believed it best to draw a line between, “I don’t like you,” and “I don’t like what you’re doing or saying.” The latter gives you the ability to seek help from that person another day, while the first cuts off lines of communication.
When Lincoln and Senator Stephen Douglas famously debated slavery in 1858, some of the exchanges could only be described as heated. Despite the ferocity, the two remained professional, never stepping into personal areas in which they could’ve easily ventured. This professionalism paid off dividends for Lincoln only two months into his Presidency.
After the Civil War had begun, Lincoln was forced into a series of actions in which Democrats could easily criticize him for using too much power. Douglas, the Democratic leader of the Senate at the time, held no grudges against Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln had earned his respect during the debates. Douglas used his influence to make sure that Congress endorsed his actions, and actually increased Lincoln’s request for more military spending.
Yet maybe the most illustrative example of Lincoln being able separate personal from professional is in his relationship with Edwin Stanton. Lincoln’s Secretary of War was a critical human resource in the North being able to win the Civil War, and was one of the President’s most trusted advisors.
Nobody could have foreseen that their relationship would have resulted like this considering how it started.
When Lincoln was still a trial lawyer in 1855, he traveled to Cincinnati to assist on a patent case. The lead attorney was Stanton, who ignored the future President like he was just an intern. Though hurt and disappointed, Lincoln stuck around anyway to watch the trial. Stanton’s management of the trial made an impression on Lincoln that stayed with him. So, when Lincoln had to get rid of his first Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, he wasted no time in hiring Stanton to run that critical department.
Lincoln continually lengthened the list of people he could work with, and shortened his list of enemies.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Lincoln kept his skin thick and it paid off professionally in cases like Douglass and Stanton. He suppressed personal conflict in favor of future workplace success, not sinking into personal vendettas and grudges. In doing so, Lincoln continually lengthened the list of people he could work with, and shortened his list of enemies. Pride always took a back seat to accomplishment.
Do we still act this way today, or are we so wrapped up in our personal stature that we no longer allow our professionalism to interfere with our personal feelings? How do you go about subordinating your feelings to possible future success?