Corridor combat: when two people who are not getting on well at work – pass each other in the corridor – each smiles at the other while muttering silently “F… you”.
George works in an office and he makes and receives many phone calls daily. He finds it easier to wear a headset. Desiree works for George and often cannot tell whether George is on a call. Daily she will walk over to George to ask him a question – only to find George frown at her, point to his headset and shake his head.
Off the phone or not, George and Desiree rarely talk to each other. Desiree rarely gets her questions answered – so she makes errors which George points out to her without providing any assistance – “At this level you’re expected to get it right”.
Frustrated, Desiree makes her phone calls on speakerphone and plays her radio loudly.
Corridor combat is ineffective. George and Desiree are making some poor decisions about the way they behave towards each other. Their friction is a source of office gossip although none of their colleagues is willing to help out with an office relationship which is getting out of control.
In most companies, when negative behaviour happens, people just don’t know how to address it. They are afraid of confrontation. They aren’t sure what their responsibilities are as individuals, and they aren’t sure what words to choose.
Even when employees and managers do work up the nerve to address unhelpful behaviour, they often employ tactics that cause greater anxiety and misunderstanding. Without meaning to, people take actions that can feel like an attack, spinning the confronted individual into defensive behaviours – denial and resentment.
Corridor combat is an almost daily occurrence inside of most large organisations, and smaller organisations are far from immune. Educating managers and employees to listen actively and speak constructively can help save millions of dollars, hours of productivity, and lots of headaches.
Here are six basic communications tactics to use when you’re dealing with charged situations in your workplace:
1. Don’t react in anger.
Express your feelings in a clear and non-threatening way. Creating an open, receptive environment reduces the chances of escalating the conflict.
2. Be specific when describing the offending situation.
Just say what you saw or what you heard. But don’t state any assumptions about intention. This limits the odds of the person responding defensively.
3. Explain how the situation has affected you.
Often people don’t ask or even consider about how others are affected by their behaviour, so addressing this directly can help people see some of the consequences of their behaviour.
4. Ask what they were thinking at the time of the offending action and how the situation makes them feel.
Aim for direct answers. Get clarification if needed. Understanding their point of view is the best way to learn how to work with them.
5. Acknowledge your contribution to the situation.
Accepting your share of the responsibility takes away the blame and establishes an even ground.
6. Invite the other person to work with you to improve the situation.
This takes the individual off the hot seat, and gives them the power to make a change for the better.
Joe Moore is managing director of ProActive ReSolutions, which specialises in building more respectful workplace behaviour between people.