Five Practical Steps You Can Take to Reduce Tension Between Co-workers

Tension between co-workers is one of the more common sources of emotional “pressure” build-up for people. Left unaddressed for long enough, the pressure can build to the point of a blow-up.  Fortunately, you can do something about it before the tension becomes a major conflict.

1. Create opportunities for people to better understand and appreciate their behavioral differences and similarities.

In my work with both teams and individuals over the last few years, this one concept has created more significant and long-lasting positive impact than any other that I have encountered.

Pretty much everyone can see that people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and behavioral styles. Recognizing our differences does not always lead to better understanding and reduced tension. In many cases, just recognizing the differences without developing appreciation for them will increase the tension between people.

I use and recommend the DISC Model of Human Behavior as the tool to accomplish the goal of developing understanding and appreciation. Like any tool, DISC can be applied inappropriately. So, I also recommend that you work with a certified trainer or coach when you apply the principles of this model in your organization.

2. Give people a chance to improve their communication skills.

Misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and miscommunication form the basis for much of the tension between co-workers.

Studies of domestic violence indicate that poor communication skills are a major risk factor for personal conflicts to escalate to violence. The workplace does not generally trigger the same emotional response intensity as a family relationship. So, I seldom get concerned that workplace tension will reach the same intensity as many domestic disputes. Still, the learning point remains: better communication skills tend to reduce the tensions that lead to unresolved conflict.

3. Help people develop higher level conflict resolution skills.

Most people learn basic conflict resolution skills as they experience work and family situations. Sometimes, the nature, duration, or intensity of the conflict can grow beyond their normal skills in this area. When this happens, people do not know what to do to resolve the conflict; and the tensions begin to grow. Help people to develop higher level conflict resolution skills, and they will know how to reduce the tension without escalating the situation unnecessarily.

4. Clarify role responsibilities and how each person’s role aligns with both team and personal success.

Lack of clarity about role responsibilities and how each role aligns with team and personal success can create tension between co-workers. Taking the time to ensure absolute clarity about your expectations of each person’s responsibilities can reduce this source of tension in the workplace.

5. Create opportunities for low-stress “face-time.”

I once worked with a man who had previous experience as the vice-president of a major multi-national corporation. He told me that he saw people who had been friends, when they worked in the same office, begin to doubt and distrust each other when one of them moved to a new office in a different state or country. I have seen the same response in shift operations when one person moves to a new shift.

Part of our “trust wiring” seems to revolve around the social aspect of seeing people in person. Creating opportunities for low-stress face-to-face communications can provide some relief to low level tension between people.

Thought for Thursday: If you have unresolved tensions in your workplace, look for a solution in these five steps you can take to reduce tension between co-workers.

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