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Workplace Communication Part 4 of 7: Avoiding Conflict

Updated on March 15, 2012
Think calm to communicate.
Think calm to communicate. | Source

When we take STYLE into account (see previous), it is clear to see that ineffective communication methods can create conflict even in situations where there is not one, even about content. Poor communication can cause hurt feelings, frustration and tends to erode relationships. Many times we label these situations personality conflicts, when they can simply be poor communication.

Here are some common communication approaches that are guaranteed to create unnecessary conflict and damage relationships:

Person centered comments. When you are talking with someone, you can discuss the topic or you can talk about the other person's behavior. Most person-centered conflicts start with or focus on the word "You" (e.g. You aren’t listening). When you shift from the topic to the person very often, the shift will cause even the most reasonable discussion to degenerate into bitter argument.

Past centered comments are those that focus on what has happened rather than what is happening. (e.g. We tried that before and it didn’t work.) What has happened is something that is beyond our control and if you focus on the past, you are obstructing useful conversation.

“Kitchen sinking” is familiar to most of us, since nearly all of us have used or been on the receiving end of this form of communication. It involves throwing all kinds of events, or misdeeds of another person into the conversation at once. It’s destructive because:

  1. It focuses on the past, over which nobody has control.
  2. It overwhelms the person on the receiving end, and the present issue almost always gets lost.
  3. It destroys trust between people.

While kitchen sink communication is more common in marriages, it can happen in the workplace. Usually, it happens because a person stores up his or her hurt feelings or perceived slights, until the point that the tide of anger can't be held back.

Overly persuasivecomments can make people angry. There’s a point where your attempts to change the other person's mind will create more resistance to your message. Nobody likes to feel that someone is trying to change them

Mistrust. The expression of mistrust can be portrayed verbally (e.g. “Are you sure you will you have this back on time?), non-verbally, and directed to third parties. When you express lack confidence in another’s abilities, integrity, behaviors or commitment; whether your comments are factual or not, other people will often react with defensiveness or aggression towards you. Even if we express mistrust in hope that the person will change their behavior for the better, it almost never has a positive or desired effect.

Passive aggressive communication is the term used to describe communication and behavior that is indirect and often contains messages that are driven by negative emotions or maliciousness. It can be non-verbal behavior such as sighing, facial expression, tone of voice, demeanor, or actions like tapping on the table. Passive aggressive behavior is terribly destructive to creating understanding and is also manipulative.

If you are on the receiving end of passive aggressive communication…

It is possible to try to get underneath it to encourage the person to talk more directly about his or her negative emotions to allow a more constructive approach to managing the situation; ask “Would you like to discuss what’s bothering you?” Be cautious in your approach however, since confrontation can result in denial and increased conflict.

If you are struggling with sending out passive aggressive communication…

This usually begins with a surge of frustration or hurt feelings. To assuage this behavior, first try to accept and acknowledge your feelings. Validate yourself; then find the source of the negative emotion, ask yourself why. Next, calm your reaction, calculate a solution and implement it. This could include expressing yourself to the person or problem that initiated your response, taking responsibility for your share, vocalizing or writing a remedy.


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