by Scott Hunter
Everyone wants to work in a thriving and nurturing environment, yet few organizations are successful in creating such a workplace. As a result, significant numbers of people don't like being at work. While most employees desperately want a rewarding and productive work environment, they have come to accept the usual drudgery and tolerate the prevailing gossip, petty jealousy, personal undermining, and adversarial communication styles day in and day out because they don't realize there is a better way.
No one should tolerate working in an environment where the most they have to look forward to is Friday afternoon. Fortunately, there are specific steps every employee can take to reclaim some of the enthusiasm, celebration, and mutual respect that thrive within flourishing business organizations.
1. Don't take things personally.
Most adults have never learned how to communicate effectively. As a result, emotions such as repressed anger and insecurity are frequently brewing within, and these emotions often surface in the forms of angry and offensive outbursts that have little or nothing to do with any occurrence in the present moment. Knowing that people suppress their stress and routinely lash out at innocent parties, does it make sense to take such outbursts personally? Logically, the answer is no. Taking someone else's anger personally is insane because it simply never is a personal phenomenon. This is not to say, however, that it is easy to remain calm in the face of another persons' anger, even when you know it is not personal. But armed with this insight you can begin to develop the ability to stand firmly in the face of another's upset without taking it as a personal attack.
2. Listen with compassion.
Listening is a vital part of communication. Unfortunately, too many people are so focused on themselves that they never really hear what others are saying to them. Their own overwhelming concerns, survival strategies, or painful circumstances block out any messages others are telling them. Yet, similar concerns, similar survival strategies, and similar painful circumstances are common experiences we all share. To one extent or another, no one is free from the difficulties of day-to-day living. Rather than reacting to someone's anger or upset, we all need to intently listen and deeply appreciate the other person's feelings and experience. Only by demonstrating empathy and working together to resolve a situation can people accomplish their personal and professional goals.
3. Just hear the communication.
In order to reduce tension within the workplace, we need to nurture an environment of open and honest communication. To do this, encourage people to talk about their present experience, and then just listen. Don't respond. Don't offer advice. Don't try to console. Just listen with compassion and understanding.
People are not interested in an intelligent response, nor do they want your well-intentioned advice or sincere consolation. What they want most is simply to be heard, and in the vast number of cases, quiet and attentive listening will allow the person's anger to disappear. What makes this step most difficult is that the unresolved issue from the past, which is the actual source of another's anger, remains invisible, and the upset individual will erroneously direct his or her anger at whoever triggered this repressed emotion. The natural tendency under these circumstances is for us to defend or counterattack, and unfortunately, this negates any possibility of producing an environment conducive to real happiness and satisfaction.
4. Give up the need to be right.
For most people, the necessity to be right-to win at all costs-is vital. They express this inner drive with clients, co-workers, and even family. They reduce individuals to objects, and they sacrifice friends simply to preserve an egocentric point of view. Such people would rather be right and "win" the argument than coexist happily. But being right and being happy are mutually exclusive.
When someone confronts us with his or her dearly held position, charging forward in denial or counterattack in an attempt to prove a counterpoint only adds fuel to the fire. Before you speak, ask yourself, "Can there be any peaceful resolution under such circumstances?" The challenge here is for us to listen with compassion and understanding and allow the other person to communicate fully, even if it is tinged with accusation.
5. Don't tolerate abusive behavior.
Listening with compassion and demonstrating empathy for another's circumstances does not mean becoming the whipping post for another's inappropriate behavior. Do not tolerate abuse. Insist on being treated with dignity and respect, and establish and maintain appropriate boundaries with others.
Should an angry co-worker persist in an attack, express concern for his or her upset and state clearly your unwillingness to tolerate abusive behavior. Leave the present situation if necessary. Buy time by walking away until cooler heads prevail. Later, return to the "scene of the crime" and give the person an opportunity to communicate. It may be wise to request the presence of an intermediary to facilitate both parties' communication.
6. Don't sell out.
In today's competitive business environment, people frequently use fear and intimidation to control and manipulate others. We all know when we have failed to stand up for ourselves, which inevitably results in negative self-evaluation. The truth is that we either behave consistent with our own standards of behavior and produce the results we intend, or we are left with the justifications, excuses, and reasons for failing to produce those results. Selling out always precludes the possibility of satisfactory results, perpetuates the mechanism of dysfunctional communication, and diminishes our self-esteem.
7. Look for the best in people.
In most organizations, competition among team members prevails. Instead of working together to create results, people would rather set themselves up to be the "star" player. Such people allow their sense of insufficiency to drive them into competition with others, which ultimately creates bias and critical analysis of people's performance. They then always look for the worst in others in an attempt to conceal or dilute their own self-perceived shortcomings.
In order to counter this tendency, learn to look for and expect the best in all co-workers and become everyone else's greatest fan. What is it about each individual that makes him or her a valuable contribution to the company? Who are these people really, and what are their best attributes and strengths? Establishing meaningful relationships with co-workers and clients makes this kind of positive assessment possible.
8. Acknowledge people.
Everyone craves positive attention to counter personal feelings of insufficiency. Look for opportunities to acknowledge co-workers so you can build morale and a team environment. What positive impact are people making on the company? Acknowledge others for doing a good job, for making a deadline, for keeping their promises, for the way they manage their workload, or for the way they treat others.
Not only is it important to acknowledge people for their actions and behaviors, but it is also important for you to thank individuals for the intangible contributions they make, for their sincerity, for their commitment, and for their enthusiasm. Thank people for who they are and what they bring to the mix. Acknowledge them for caring, for their smile, and for their devotion and loyalty.
9. Forgive others.
True forgiveness requires giving up resentment and the desire to punish; it necessitates pardon, the cessation of anger, and the ability to overlook. Given people's unconscious desire to win at all costs and their necessity to be right, we often tend to hold on to every injustice, every wrong, every resentment, and every regret. What we fail to realize is that when we suppress unforgiven resentments, they arise again and again whenever we are under stress.
For your own sanity, you must learn to forgive others. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself and to another. Forgiveness does not deny the inappropriate nature of another's act, nor does it condone or tolerate future abuse. But in forgiveness, in giving up the resentment and the right to punish, you gain serenity, freedom, and peace of mind.
Forgiveness necessitates a commitment to something greater than your desire to win the argument or to be right at any cost. While this would seem like a simple requirement, in practice it is not. However, by confronting the price paid for an unwillingness to forgive, you can develop your ability to let go of past harms.
10. Communicate upsets.
Many people mistakenly believe that unexpressed anger, upset, and disappointment will simply disappear over time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like resentments, unexpressed upsets inevitably arise again and again. They divert your attention and sap your energy. Moreover, unfulfilled expectations, thwarted intentions, and undelivered communications-the stuff of which upsets are made-provide the evidence we desire to punish other individuals.
The best way to communicate an upset is to verbalize your feelings and emotional state rather than focus on the upsetting behavior. For example, the statement, "When you..., I feel...," is an effective model of this kind of communication. It takes the emphasis off the individual's behavior and puts it squarely where it belongs: on your feelings about the behavior.
None of these specific steps are particularly easy. They all require clear awareness of your own emotional state and behavioral patterns, a rigorous commitment to the possibility of real dignity and satisfaction in human interaction, and a practical discipline in their implementation. With practice though, these steps do offer the real possibility of a work environment characterized by genuine satisfaction, smooth productivity, and authentic enthusiasm.
The choice is yours. You can continue to spend your workdays in anger and frustration, or you can dedicate yourself to creating an environment of partnership and peace. Commit to these ten steps today so your organization can flourish for years to come.