When there is conflict at work we always believe it’s the other guy’s fault; your passive-aggressive colleague, the boss who is incompetent, the peer who is always complaining about something, or maybe even the culture that exists in your company where no one takes accountability and responsibility is misdirected. Not only do we spend huge amounts of time at work complaining about these people and situations, we take it home and complain to friends and family and let it consume even our time away from the office. Ongoing conflict eats away at productivity, performance and most importantly one’s satisfaction and happiness at work. If you think however that in order to manage conflict and reduce your own stress and frustration that the other person or situation has to change you are in for continued disappointment. You have to first start with yourself and what you can do to break the cycle and impact the end result.
Emotions are stressful : A huge obstacle in communication is that our emotions get in our way. When we chronically deal with emotions such as frustration, stress, anger and fear they create a physical reaction in our body that can actually be measured by blood flow, brain activity and more. You’ll recognize your own physical reactions such as your jaw tightens or your breathing changes, you might feel your heart rate increase. When your body reacts to your emotions it creates a cycle whereby emotional stress continues, causing physical reactions and we become disengaged, unproductive and unhappy at work. Not a great place for resolving problems or managing frustration.
Stress creates conflict and conflict breeds anger, resentment and more. When we are stressed we are not at our best. Our ability to manage our emotional reactions diminishes, our creativity plummets and we continue to spiral down. Emotions take hold of us and we become angry, frustrated and resentful. We become inflexible and overreact to situations and comments and assume they are out to get us. When we are in this state we play a key role in continuing the conflict rather than focusing on problem resolution.
Too much to do causes frustration and stress. In today’s business environment we are often working with not enough resources under ridiculously short deadlines. And that’s the typical week. Throw something else into the equation such as key personnel leaving or a huge new project and suddenly the plate that was already overflowing with work is spilling onto the floor. We now move into the space of stress which we already discussed causes resentment, anger and more. Our reaction is to blame the powers to be, the corporate culture, the colleague who isn’t holding up their end…and it’s no wonder that we are chronically frustrated at work.
Communication is poor on a good day. Communication challenges are constant in every organization, regardless of size. Listening is a lost skill, empathy for others seems to only exist when the stars align and criticism is what we hear from everyone around us. This turns to anger, frustration, stress…well you get the picture, it’s a vicious cycle. We can’t possibly think rationally, we either pick fights or sit in a place of resignation and resentment and the end result is we aren’t happy, others around us aren’t happy, productivity drops and the cycle of criticism, blame and frustration continues.
The picture sounds familiar doesn’t it, though grim? You’re probably thinking yep so there is nothing I can do, but you would be incorrect. You can’t change other people, but you can change yourself and when you change there is at least a possibility of others around you changing their behavior. If you want to change the cycle here are a few steps you can take.
1. Become more self-aware. When you become angry or frustrated stop and ask yourself what is causing you to feel this way. Is it the actual situation you are dealing with or are you tired, hungry, dealing with something personal or attaching something to the situation or the other person’s behavior that is influencing your thinking? It’s easy to pass blame onto the other person without taking a moment to consider yourself. And I understand this is easier said than done. However the more often you stop and assess what is going on with you that may be impacting the communication, the greater the chance is of having fewer conflicts at work.
2. Leave work conflicts at work. When we take our work conflicts home it continues the cycle. Our loved ones join in our crusade and we become increasingly convinced that we are right and others are wrong. With that mindset conflict is the natural outgrowth.
3. Take care of yourself physically. There are countless studies that cite the importance of eating properly, getting enough sleep and exercise to our well-being. We can’t be at our best when we are tired and aren’t fueling our body properly.
4. Take time for yourself. When our lives become work and we have no balance everything is centered on what happens at work. Maybe you don’t even remember anymore what you enjoyed doing outside of work hours it’s been so long since you thought of anything else. The old adage “all work and no play” says it all.
5. Learn emotional self-control. Easy to let our emotions take control, and even hold us hostage. Once that happens we don’t think clearly, we feel threatened and angry and all hell breaks loose. Learn to manage your emotions so you don’t get stuck with them hijacking you.
6. Practice meditation, yoga or other practices of mindfulness. When we are amped up it’s difficult if not impossible to be self-aware, practice emotional self-control, be clear-headed and not respond negatively to stressful situations. Go do research on the internet and you’ll quickly learn the direct physical effect mindfulness has on physical well being and minds.
Remember actions come out of the way we think, not the other way around. When we think negative thoughts, when we are stressed, frustrated, angry, afraid…those negative emotions, we will take actions that will produce results we don’t want, and continue the cycle. Before you decide that you can’t do anything about your stress and frustration because it’s caused by others, examine what role you play in perpetuating it, and what you can do to if not end the cycle, at least slow it down.