Word-Of-the-Week #715: Calm

April 19, 2018 by  

Calmnot showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other strong emotions.

How easy is it for you to be calm in a disagreement? How receptive are you to hearing another person’s perspective? Can you disagree without being disagreeable?

This is the second half of Thanks for the conflict! Recognizing—and appreciating—when a co-worker fights fair” by Deborah Grayson Riegel. To recap, “Workplace conflict is inevitable.You are going to come up against people who challenge your ideas and who challenge you. 

That’s a good thing. Disagreements can lead to diversity of thinking, improvements in products and services and greater productivity. Disagreements also can lead to better working relationships, but only if everyone involved fights fair. 

Here are the other two healthy conflict behaviors to look for so that you can say “thank you” when you see them. 

  1. Using a respectful tone

In the face of an interpersonal conflict, our brains register a threat in approximately 1/5 of a second. We immediately go into fight, flight or freeze mode, and it’s easy to become snippy, short-tempered, sarcastic, surly or silent. It’s reacting rather than considering how to respond. 

If your colleague is willing and able to stop his automatic reaction, and demonstrate emotionally intelligent self-management by speaking to you calmly and with care, thank him. It likely took some work to be able to do that, and some respect for you to be willing to do it. 

Try saying this: “I just want to thank you for the calm tone of voice you’re using right now, even though I know you’re upset. It makes it easy for me to really hear your perspective, and to have a productive conversation.” 

As radio host Bernard Meltzer once said, “If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along — whether it be business, family relations or life itself.” 

  1. Being curious

Healthy communication navigates and balances between two practices: advocacy (promoting our own ideas, perspectives and points of view) and inquiry (being curious about the other’s ideas, perspectives and points of view.) 

In a conflict, we tend to over-rely on advocacy — telling the other person what we think and know, why we’re right, and why the other person clearly is wrong. Inquiry tends to go out the door. We’re often more committed to getting our way than to getting new information that could sway us (or, heaven forbid, reveal that we were wrong).

When you hear your colleague asking you questions like, “What do you think I’m not understanding here?” or “What would you like to see happen?” or even prompting you with “Tell me more,” thank him for being curious. 

Try saying this: “Thank you for asking me. I’d like to tell you how I see it, and then I’d like to learn more about how you see it.” 

And if he also really listens to your answers, thank him again. 

A conflict doesn’t have to hurt people’s feelings or slow down productivity. In fact, a conflict where both people care about the relationship as much as the outcome can be a catalyst to interpersonal and organizational progress. 

This week’s focus is on being calm during conflict. Do you know how to fight fair? Can you use a respectful tone without getting defensive? Can you see how being curious could help create healthier relationships?

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