Reducing Conflict at Work

September 26, 2015

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that people in a work setting have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. The same is true for our personal lives, but I want to focus on the work environment in this article.

Here are 12 simple ideas that can reduce the conflict between people and provide a more pleasant work environment:

1. Reverse Roles – When people take opposing sides in an argument, they become blind to the alternate way of thinking. This polarization causes people to become intransigent, and the rancor escalates.

A simple fix is to get each party to verbalize the points being made by the other person. To accomplish this, each person must truly understand the other person’s perspective, which is why the technique is effective.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Most of the things that drive you crazy about a co-worker are things that you won’t remember by the end of the day or certainly not later in the week.

Recognize that the things annoying you about another person are really insignificant when considering the bigger picture and the numerous things both of you have in common.

3. Live and Let Live – The other person’s personal habits are just the way he or she is built. Don’t fixate on trying to change the person to conform to what you think should happen. Focus your attention on the things you like to do.

4. Take a Vacation – When pressure builds up, just take a brief vacation in your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize a happier place and time.

For example, you can take a vicarious trip to the beach anytime you wish. One trick with this technique is to get as many senses involved as possible;

  • feel the warm air on your cheek,
  • taste the salt water on your lips,
  • hear the gentle lapping of the waves,
  • smell the seaweed by your feet,
  • touch the warm sand on which you are sitting,
  • see the beautiful sunset over the water.

5. Be Nice – Kindness begets kindness. Share a treat, say something soothing, compliment the other person, do something helpful. These things make it more difficult for the ill feelings to spread.

6. Extend Trust – Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We’ll forgive the flawed grammar, since Ernest is already in the grave, and also since his meaning is powerfully true.

Trust is bilateral, and you can usually increase trust by extending more of it to others. In my work, I call this “The First Law of Trust.”

7. Don’t Talk Behind their Back – When you spread gossip about people, a little of it eventually leaks back to them, and it will destroy the relationship. If there is an issue, handle it directly, just as you would have that person do with you.

8. Don’t Regress to Childish Behavior – It is easy for adults in the work setting to act like children. You can witness it every day. Get off the playground, and remember to act like an adult.

Work is not a place to have tantrums, sulk, pout, have a food fight, undermine, or any number of common tactics used by people who are short on coping mechanisms because of their immaturity.

9. Care About the Person – It is hard to be upset with someone you really care about. Recognize that the load other people carry is equal or heavier than your own.

Show empathy and try to help them in every way possible. This mindset is the route to real gratitude.

10. Listen More Than You Speak – When you are talking or otherwise expounding, it is impossible to be sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Take the time to listen to the other person.

Practice reflective listening and keep the ratio of talking to listening well below 50%.

11. Create Your Development Plan – Most individuals have a long list of what other people need to do to shape up but a rather short list of the things they need to improve upon. Make sure you identify the things in your own behavior that need to change, and you will take the focus off the shortcomings of others.

12. Follow the Golden Rule – The famous Golden Rule will cure most strife in any organization. We tend to forget to apply it to our everyday battles at work.

If we would all follow these 12 simple rules, there would be a lot less conflict in the work place. It takes some effort, but it is really worth it because we spend so much time working with other people.

Following these rules also means leading by example. If just a few people in an organization model these ideas, other people will see the impact and start to abide by them as well. That initiative can form a trend that will change an entire culture in a short period of time.

The above ideas are part of a set of videos for improving human interactions. The program is entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” You can view three demo videos for free by clicking on this link. http://www.avanoo.com/first3/528 Each segment is just 3 minutes in duration. If you are interested in purchasing the entire 30 video set, use promo code JUNGLE to obtain a 70% discount.


Other People’s Pain

January 30, 2015

Man comforting  to a woman isolatedEmpathy is critical if we want to help other people in their time of need. There ought to be a course somewhere in the education system on EMP-101.

This article brings up some cautions about how we express our empathy when people are in crises.

You will hear the phrase “I know how you feel” perhaps thousands of times in your lifetime. The truth is that other people can never fully feel your pain.

They may be able to approximate it based on their own experiences. They may be able to logically deduce how you feel by extrapolating the situation, how you look, and the things you say, but they can never fully experience what you are going through.

Far better to say something like, “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for you.” Since you cannot put yourself fully in the other person’s shoes, why utter banal phrases that make it seem like you can?

I will direct this article mostly to what is called “Professional Hurt” which is a term I learned recently from Dr. Ruby Brown from Jamaica, who coined the phrase. I met Ruby while speaking at the Caribbean Leadership Program in Trinidad.

She wrote her dissertation on the topic of Professional Hurt, which is when a person in a professional setting is abused somehow by managers or circumstances beyond control.

Professional Hurt also would occur when a person gets demoted or is fired. It may be the result of being passed over for a promotion or being marginalized in any number of ways.

When someone else is hurting, spend more time listening to the person. Avoid the temptation to say, “Oh that is just like how I felt last year when I was not given the raise they promised me.” That is not going to make the other person feel any better.

Listening to stories of people who are worse off or have had the same problem does not relieve the person’s pain today.

Rather, ask thoughtful questions if the person wants to talk or just be present if the person is in shock or unable to verbalize the pain.

Body language is particularly important when dealing with another person who is in a crisis. You can show that you care more with your eyes and facial expression than you can with a constant stream of babble. Just listening and nodding may be the best thing you can do for the other person at that moment.

Logic is not a good approach. You may be tempted to cheer the person up by saying, “These things don’t last forever; you’ll be feeling better soon.” Not only does that kind of approach backfire, it can belittle the person who is suffering to imply that time alone will heal the wounds.

Try to avoid hackneyed expressions that are commonly used in the working world. If your friend has just been fired, don’t tell him, “Whenever one door is closed, another will open.”

Do not try to cheer him up with “Nobody likes working for that jerk anyway.” Shut your trap and take your cues from the person who is hurting.

Let your presence and body language do the talking for you. If it seems the other person is in need of a steady stream of words from someone, then you can perhaps help with phrases like, “you’re strong enough to overcome this,” or “what would you like to happen now,” but the laconic approach is usually superior.

Do not recount how your neighbor had the same situation and ended up with a big promotion. All those kinds of phrases may make you feel like you are helping, but in reality little real comfort is coming through the overused phrases or comparisons.

Above all, recognize that you do not know how the other person is feeling and the best thing you can do is admit that. Show your love and feeling by avoiding the typical mistakes made by well intended people who were never offered a course in EMP-101 in school.