Click here to listen to the Podcast: “The Workplace Problem Nobody Will Talk About”
Whether it’s the office note-leaver or the backhanded compliment master, everyone has witnessed passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.
But why does it happen? And what can we do about it?
In a talk with Brandon Laws of Xenium HR, I go over some of these issues with regards to passive aggressive behavior in the workplace.
In the Podcast, we discuss how to spot it, why it happens and how it can impact the workplace. Finally, we go over some ways you can manage your passive aggressive employees to create a more positive workplace.
Have you ever started a campfire that ended up being this annoying smoking pile of wood? It was a struggle to keep it going, because you’ve used wet fire starters or choked it with big blocks of wood? Well, I have. In all the years of camping, I’ve learned that it depends on what I do at the start of a campfire if it turns into a cozy fire or a smoking hell. Well, this may sound simple, but the same goes for conflict!
You have to understand one thing about conflict. Conflict is a dynamic process with a beginning, middle and end. Just like a campfire. Although we usually don’t get that warm feeling about conflict that we have when we think of a campfire.
A conflict typically starts with one particular event: the spark that starts the fire. Someone says or does something that triggers a reaction from us. We either choose to feed the fire with our destructive impulsive reactions such as an external confrontation or an outburst. Or we keep our response inside and let negative feelings fester, depending on our style and preference.
An alternative is to choose a response that is more constructive from the beginning, such as reaching out or listening to understand the others point of view. The more constructive our response is to the triggering event, the smaller the chance that a conflict escalates.
Just like with a campfire, how a conflict develops depends strongly on what we feed it in the beginning. Of course, this is as far as the metaphor with campfire works, because conflict is so much more complex. We want the conflict to resolve as soon as possible and we want the campfire to keep going. Either way, the events that occur early in the process and our behavior at the beginning of conflict are especially important for how the conflict unfolds. It’s up to you how you choose to respond to that initial spark.
What do you know about your own behavior at the onset of conflict? Are you choosing to feed the fire with destructive responses right from the start? Or are you helping to put out the fire with constructive behaviors that foster connection and mutual understanding? Have you seen a difference in the way conflict develops in your life, depending on which responses you chose?
If you find it hard not to react to that initial spark, try to stop, breathe and take a moment to think about the best response. Just observe your initial reaction, and don’t take any action yet until you know it’s a constructive one that helps in resolving the issue.
We’re paying a high price for giving in. By giving in, we are giving up what we want out of the relationship and out of life. We are not meeting our own needs when we are giving in, which often leads to resentment and bitterness towards the other. Resentment, if not expressed and dealt with, may lead to depression. I have seen these consequences show up more than once with my coaching clients, as well as in my own life. In every case, it damages the relationship we have with ourselves and with the other.
Here are 3 questions to ponder some more. Think of a situation in your professional or personal life where you were giving in – not matching what you were saying with what you were thinking.
- Why did I give in with this person?
- What has been the (professional/personal) price I had to pay for giving in?
- How could I/the relationship benefit from me speaking up next time?
Live the life you want to live. Be thankful, be courageous, be real
Last week you might have explored what your main reason is for giving in when there is the chance of an argument unfolding. What is your gain or loss when you give in?
Giving in is not necessarily a bad thing to do. I can think of many situations when it is more desirable to accommodate the other person. I’m addressing here the event of giving in that is harmful for us.
Fear of Confrontation: We may accommodate the other person out of a desire to please them and be kind, a belief that we don’t deserve to be treated better, the fear of losing a loved one or with an intention not to hurt anyone’s feelings. The chance is big that we are missing out on an opportunity to show who we really are and create a closer and more dynamic relationship with the other person. All these reasons are bundled into one neat package: The Fear of Confrontation.
Although it is the most common response to any differences that arise between people, giving in or accommodating is the least noticed. We just don’t see it happen when someone is doing it, because of the discrepancy between what is said and thought. That is often where the trouble begins between two people with differences. That is what makes a conversation a difficult one.
Next week we’ll explore the high price we are paying by giving in.
Have you ever had someone cancel a meeting with you several times? The other day a colleague re-scheduled a meeting with me for the third time in a row on very short notice and I said, “Oh that’s okay! I understand that things can happen.” I wanted to be nice to my colleague and not make him feel bad. What I actually thought was: “How disrespectful to reschedule again, I must not be important to you.” While this may have been an understandable thought, it wasn’t constructive as it provoked feelings of resentment and resistance towards my colleague.
How often do we say something like: “I couldn’t care less,” “I don’t want to argue with you about this” or “I’m sorry” while internally we think: “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I just want you to stop yelling at me?” What we are actually doing here is giving in.
There are many different reasons why we think one thing and say another and we’ll explore those next week. This week start exploring by asking yourself: What is the main reason I am giving in and what do I gain/loose with giving in?
In her book, Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication, Sharon Ellison estimates that we use 95% of our communications energy being defensive. As soon as we feel any threat, either of not getting what we want or of being put down in some way, we are ready to protect ourselves by being defensive.
Imagine how much more productive our communications could be if we learned how to respond nondefensively and to avoid provoking defensiveness in others! Take this quiz to see how defensive you tend to be.
- When a client, boss, coworker or colleague points out a flaw in my work, I am quick to show him or her how it wasn’t my fault.
- If I am at fault for something, it’s because of some factor outside of myself over which I had no control.
- When people are upset with me, I let them know with explanations and excuses why they are wrong.
- I’m always looking for the hidden critical message beneath another’s words.
- If I don’t defend myself, I’ll get run over.
- I can rarely admit that I am wrong.
- If I think someone will have something critical to say, I avoid talking to that person.
If you responded true more often than false to the above questions, consider some of the following alternatives to defensiveness.
- I’m always looking to improve my work, service or product, so I welcome feedback from clients, my boss or customers on how well I am doing (or not).
- I realize that when I’m feeling defensive, I don’t feel safe, competent or confident.
- When someone criticizes me, I sit with it to see if there’s a kernel of truth in the criticism. If there is, I acknowledge it and work to improve in that area.
- By my willingness to admit and correct any errors, I engender trust and confidence from employees, bosses, clients and customers.
- When someone is leveling a complaint, I ignore the words “always” and “never” and instead focus on the rest of the message.
- I take responsibility for what I can change.
- I listen for the usually hidden need expressed in a person’s complaint or anger, acknowledge the need, and then see whether there is something I can do to meet it.
Please don’t hesitate to call if you’d like to explore this issue further.
On Sunday, September 21st people all over the world celebrate the 30th anniversary of International Peace Day. Now, more than ever, this day has meaning to all of us, the entire human race, so I wanted to share some thoughts about this day.
To me, it sometimes feels overwhelming to talk about establishing world peace. I mean, where do we be begin with all the global wars that are raging right now?
My philosophy of conflict resolution is that it starts at the kitchen table with a cup of tea. In my point of view any conflict, regardless of its complexity, can be dealt with at a kitchen table where a few people come together to patiently share, explore, be curious, ask questions and listen, listen, listen. We need courage and a simple process to interact in such a way.
Effective conflict resolution is about exploring each other differences in values, point of views, goals and other areas where we differ. In its most simple form it is only that: exploring, listening and understanding. When it comes down to it, we all have the same basic human needs such as appreciation, acknowledgment and acceptance.
I really do think that if we can bring world leaders together with individual fighters, rebels, and terrorists to skillfully conduct such kitchen table dialogues, world peace would be within reach and the world would end up being a better place.
That brings up the question what we can do at an individual level on The International Day of Peace, to promote peace in the workplace, our homes, neighborhoods and ultimately in the world.
Is it time for you to bring up the courage to have a “Kitchen Table Dialogue” where you put all your concerns, your differences out on the kitchen table and look at them together with your dialogue partner? Where are we different, where are we wanting the same, how can we look beyond our needs to the greater good? Listen to ourselves; where are we holding on to judgments and old beliefs? Share what assumptions you are making about the situation or about the other and check if these assumptions are true for the other.
A Kitchen Table Dialogue is built upon the belief that people are more alike than different, and that dialogue can create deeper empathy, break down barriers and build relationships. Ultimately, these relationships can help us create positive changes in the world.
A couple of simple processes and tools come to mind that assist in having focused, effective Kitchen Table Dialogues such as the mediation process (I like to call this process a “Facilitated Dialogue”) or a structured conversation model as Jump Movement. Thought provoking cards such as the Little Upsides™ may help move the conversation forward as well.
Kitchen Table Dialogues matter, because if we can’t practice and find peace in our home and place of work, how can we expect to find peace beyond these places? I realize that I am asking some big questions and I would like to ask: “What do you think about what I just said?” Let me know in the comment box below!
Calling all introverts to conflict resolution! Here is your guide, Innie, inspired by what your extrovert counterparts do effectively when they fight, quarrel, clash, and battle.
1.Make Yourself Known
Extroverts process out loud; we know how they think, feel and process the experience of conflict. Introverts process internally and that brings up a lot of guesswork for the other. Innie, at least share with the Outie in your life that you are processing or need time to process in a quiet space, otherwise your silence could look like stonewalling.
2. Open the Door
Literally, Innies, open the door to your office once in a while. Extroverts often have an open door policy that invites and encourages conversation.
3. Think a little less.
Innies have the tendency to (over) think responses, assumptions, and motivations. Think less and save yourself some time and energy. Thinking less also prevents making up stories in your head about the things you experience. The less stories, the more real the interactions.
4. Show up Authentically
Often our response is more authentic when we have not spent a lot of time thinking it over. In interpersonal conflict it is often better to speak from the heart instead of the head, to get the unfiltered un-judgmental truth. Tune into your inner wisdom and speak up from that honest vulnerable place inside of you, Innie, that so few get to see. As Brenee Brown says: “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
5. Practice Small Talk
Introverts don’t like small talk; sometimes it seems that is the only thing that Outies do. What they win with it, though, is goodwill and a quick rapport. If introverts would engage in some small talk before the difficult conversation, things may just seem to go smoother.
6. Quiet your Gremlins
We al have our internal voice(s) going on and for Introverts, these can get very loud. They get so loud that we can’t really hear the extrovert. Skillful listening is about being fully present with the other. Dial down
7. Take Your Time
Extroverts are effective in turning experiences into stories. Innies often worry about taking up too much time. Stories and the use of metaphors may have valuable things to add to the conversation.
And if all else fails, Innie, remember the jewel that you are within.
“I don’t know what to say in the moment and he doesn’t give me time to think and collect my thoughts for a good response,” Sally said, when I asked the group what their biggest personal challenge is in conflict. She is one of the participants in a recent workshop I conducted on Conflict Dynamics in the workplace. When asked, Sally self-identified as an Introvert.
Sally is not the only one who is,unconsciously, pointing out the differences between Introverts and Extroverts, who find themselves in an interpersonal conflict at work. Recently I have had a lot of discussions about what it means to be an introvert leader in an extrovert culture as the American culture. What keeps coming up for me is how much we can learn from each other when we are open to our differences and that there is no right or wrong. Since I’ve been embracing being more on the introverted side of the scale, I have a better understanding of the challenges as well as the advantages introvert leaders face, compared to their more outgoing counterparts, when it comes to conflict resolution.
Here are 7 skills the Extrovert leader could learn from an Introvert, when in conflict:
Introverts know how to listen. They do it all the time. By listening they receive a lot of information on which they base decisions, ask the next question, show empathy and address other people’s needs. People feel heard, when they are listened to that way. If you are more on the extroverted side of the spectrum, work on developing your listening skills by being silent and letting the other person talk more than you. Listen for the feelings and needs that the other person is expressing and acknowledge those out loud, so they feel heard.
2. Ask more questions
Introverts learn about others’ perspectives in conflict by asking questions. The art of asking powerful questions goes hand in hand with skillful listening. Extroverts, when asking a question, could wait with answering their own question or asking another question and allow silence to happen. Introverts know that magic happens in the silence between questions, because the introvert needs to think about the question, sometimes even for a minute or 2. And when they are allowed thinking time, then the other person gets an authentic answer and the connection is real.
3. Take 5: Time for Reflection
One of the introvert’s strengths in conflict resolution is reflective thinking. This is a constructive conflict resolution skill and one that many extroverts lack. The benefits of reflection are not that obvious at first, but are significant. If the extrovert takes (more) time for reflection, for example by spending time alone thinking or journaling about the conflict, it allows him or her to strategize the next steps in the conflict and better understand the outcomes and the impact of their actions on the other person. The result of taking the time for reflection is that we are less likely to react impulsively to the other party, which prevents putting more fuel on the fire than necessary in a challenging situation.
4. Show Humbleness
Being humble is less of a skill and more of an attitude and it means different things to different people. The qualities of humbleness I am thinking of here is recognizing your own faults, your own contribution to the conflict. Being humble is also about knowing that you make mistakes and admitting that you made a mistake. We could all be more humble.
5. Come Prepared
One of the introvert’s strengths is coming prepared to meetings. The value for the Extrovert of being prepared when going into a difficult conversation is to have looked at different perspectives, explored our own feelings about what is going on, having a list of powerful questions to ask to find out what is really going.
6. Stay Away from Bunny Trails: Focused Dialogue
An introvert keeps you on track in a difficult conversation by not jumping from one topic to the other. No one is served by going on a bunny trail and not addressing the real issue. In the eye of an introvert getting off track equals wasting time for the real and meaningful things people can say to each other.
7. Calmness Can Save You!
Introverts have the reputation to be calm, collected and cool. Sometimes not displaying emotions openly and passionately, as the Extrovert does, may result in a more constructive situation. What the Extrovert can learn from the Introvert is to express emotions by naming them calmly (“I am angry right now”) instead of displaying the emotion (passionately slamming a door).
Stay tuned for next month, when I’ll put together the Introvert Guide to Conflict: What Introverts can learn from Extroverts.