Lately, I’ve been working with a number of clients who are struggling mightily with workplace conflict.
And as we all know, conflict in the workplace makes our jobs harder, ruins our morale and impacts our productivity dramatically.
If you’ve got conflict on the team you manage, or conflict with a co-worker, chances are good that you’ve got challenges in your communication style that are contributing to that conflict.
So how can you make your workplace more easeful by creating a conflict-free environment?
In recent months, I’ve been exploring quite a bit with both my private and corporate clients something called Non-Violent Communication.
This communication style, pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg, has been everywhere from racially charged neighborhoods in conflicts with police to the highest levels of government as a means to resolve conflict, eliminate anger, and reach agreement and understanding.
So how does it work?
Rosenberg’s work suggests that there are four steps to resolving conflict and reaching a place of understanding in any conversation. They go like this:
1) Start with your observations.
In any conversation that is potentially conflicted, start by clearly expressing how “I am”– and do it without blaming or criticizing. For example, when dealing with a co-worker who belittles his assistant, one way to start might be to say the following:
“When I see you yelling at your assistant outside my office door . . . ”
I is the most important word in this sentence. Starting with “when you yell at your secretary . . .” is more confrontational.
2) Next, state your feelings.
Here, you must critically focus on your emotions or feelings rather than your thoughts. So continuing on with the above example, you might say:
“When I see you yelling at your assistant outside my office door, I feel anxious and stressed out . . .”
Note how different this is from, for instance, “You need to stop yelling at your assistant!”
3) Then, express your needs or values.
This is where it can get tricky, because the key to communicating effectively here is expressing what you need or value that you are not getting as a result of the conflict. It is important that rather than stating a preference, you instead state your needs and values explicitly.
So, again continuing with the above example:
“When I see you yelling at your assistant outside my office door, I feel anxious and stressed out, because I value a peaceful, respectful workplace.”
4) Lastly, state your request.
The final step in the non-violent communication process is clearing requesting something that would shift your experience, without demanding it.
So, our example would wind up as follows:
“When I see you yelling at your assistant outside my office door, I feel anxious and stressed out, because I value a peaceful, respectful workplace. Would you be willing to communicate with your assistant without yelling?”
As you might imagine, the results you would get from applying this process would be very different from something that went along these lines.
“You need to stop yelling at your assistant! You’re making everyone miserable! You need to cut it out, or I’m going to report you!”
Consider the different potential outcomes. Obviously, one is more likely to get a positive response than the other.
One last point on this style of communication: you can also use it when receiving information about how you are, without hearing blame or criticism. How might that work?
Let’s take another example: your co-worker is upset that you cut her off in a meeting. After the meeting, she storms into your office and says: “I can’t believe you did that! I had a really important point to make and you didn’t even let me finish! And now our boss thinks I didn’t have anything to contribute!”
Using the strategies of non-violent communication, you would respond as follows:
“So when you heard me interrupt you, you felt devalued and angry, because you value having your ideas heard in our meetings. Do I have that right?”
“Would you like me to be more patient and not interrupt you in the future?”
“Yes.” (exhale.) “That would be great. Thanks for understanding.”
As you can see, this is way better than responding to your colleague’s upset with something like “Stop being so sensitive!” (LOL.)
Bonus hint: these four steps apply not only at work, but not in life. Try them the next time you’re arguing with a partner. Defusing conflict through non-violent communication can benefit your work environment, your home life and even your parenting.
In the comments, I want to hear from you: how have strategies like these impacted your life for the better?
Wishing you a productive, conflict-free week!
All the best,
PS. Do you struggle with workplace conflict? I can help. Click here to set up a free consultation and learn more about what private coaching can do for you.