Addressing Tension in the Workplace
By Erika Osmundson, AgCareers.com
Conflict, tension, …whatever you want to call it. Not a favorite for many, but it certainly has its place. It moves the needle. It draws light to areas for improvement. It can draw relationships closer together. You can find it most anywhere.
Learning how to work through conflict can ease the angst. Whether you are having problems with an employee at work or have recently gone through a big change you aren’t liking or having problems at home with a loved one, these three simple things can help you navigate and get a grip on conflict. Take conflict from a negative and turn it into something productive.
1. Stop telling yourself stories – our brain has a way of taking something small (or big) and making it bigger in our minds. You know what I’m talking about. You tell yourself what the other person is thinking, why they are acting this way, and what their feelings and intentions are. We make it up in our heads and I’d venture to guess that at least 8 times out of 10, our story is way more dramatic than it really is. The truth is you don’t know any of these things until you talk about it!
This storytelling gets worse the more we dwell. Don’t wait to address tension for too long. Caution: If you have a short fuse, you may need to take a few hours (maybe even a day or two) to cool off before you can move on to the next items. But don’t wait too long. Not only does it give you time to blow things out of proportion in your mind, but it gives the other person the same opportunity, which only escalates the situation.
2. LISTEN! If you start anywhere, start here. Arrange a connect to talk about things. You should spend more time listening and less time talking. Listen for understanding. Make sure you aren’t formulating your next comeback while the person is talking – you can’t do that and listen. We are all guilty of this! Zip the lips and listen, listen, listen!
3. Ask clarifying questions. This will help you achieve #2. Asking questions and trying to understand helps diffuse some of the raw emotion that can sometimes inflate conflict. These questions can’t be condescending in nature – they need to be clarifying. Why do you feel this way? What types of things have led you to this decision? Did you evaluate other options? Why do you feel those aren’t going to work? Back to listening – hear what they have to say and then ask if they’d be willing to hear your thoughts. From my experience, asking questions during difficult situations has worked wonders for a number of reasons.
These are just a few ways to approach conflict and tension that I’ve found valuable over my years. And the nice thing is that these tips work if you are a manager, employee, husband or wife. I have to say it is a journey and I still would rather things be hunky dory! But obviously that isn’t reality. I get things wrong often, but I like to think that it happens a little less each time I’m confronted with conflict or tension. Want more, check out Crucial Conversations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer, one of my favorite books on this topic.