5 tips on handling tense work situations

We all have good days and we all have bad days.  Some people are naturally calm, others fly into a rage, whilst others bottle up their frustration.  Despite being amazing at what we do, we are all human, and there are times when our emotions get the better of us.  Like most of us, I’m on a journey to better understand myself, my own emotional reactions and the impact they have on others.  After a tough couple of weeks, I thought I’d share some  observations.

Don’t take things too personally – When we’re proud of something we’ve delivered, or we are working on too many tasks at once, we sometimes pick up the wrong signals, or misunderstand what someone has said to us.  On a good day, we would accept a comment as constructive feedback, but on a bad day, we see it as criticism.  Being able to pause, re-read an email or replay a conversation and think about the intended message is really important before we respond.  For those who made a comment that upset someone, think about the way to handle a matter with children – modern wisdom suggests we should criticise the action, not the child.  If something is not right, think about how you can explain the impact, and avoid subjective comments on anyone’s performance.

Try and see their perspective – Probably the hardest thing about living in a fantastically diverse city like London is understanding everyone else’s perspective.  The richness of the city is also the biggest complication.  Trying to see a tense work situation through others’ eye will be difficult, especially if you are feeling that you have not been heard or understood.   Sometimes we’ll need to ask the person to explain their view point in a different way to help us “get it” – that’s OK, and is actually a rather respectful way to show you are keen to understand.  If someone adopt a belligerent attitude, and refuses to budge from their position, understanding their position will help find a solution.  Oftentimes, this may be because the person is fearful of loosing control, being shown to not know the answer or is uncomfortable to share the real details behind their perspective.  Softly, softly is the best way forward in this to move beyond the tense situation.

Don’t accept disrespect – Sometimes people crack jokes or make comments that can come across in the wrong way.  In the modern workplace, we need to be mindful of what we say, and avoid offending people.  That is not to say that we should stop being our authentic selves, but be aware of the diversity of those around us.  Unfortunately, there are occasions when someone knowingly or inadvertently shows us disrespect.  This is not acceptable, and it is important that the person understand this.  Explaining why something is disrespectful, and considering the point above may help in communicating this.  If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to consult a manager.

Avoid talking about things over email – I have sent numerous emails in my career where the message I intended to convey was not the message that was understood.  Subsequent emails to try and correct any misunderstanding can even exacerbate the situation.  If you realise that you’ve been misunderstood, better to talk to the person – face-to-face or on the phone – so that you can correct any misunderstanding in a positive way.  Likewise, if you get an email that winds you up, pick up the phone and chat (bearing in mind the point below!)

Step away, reflect and then address the issue – If I didn’t walk round the block on some days, I think I’d go mad.  Work is demanding and takes so much concentration, by stepping away from the screen for 10 minutes, I give my brain time to re-sync.  In a similar way, when faced with a tense work situation, the best way to reach a resolution may not be to persist with it.  Whether you are impulsive or reflective, acknowledging that you need time to process before responding (sometimes that might mean overnight or longer), you can remove the emotion and re-approach the situation objectively.  Never be uncomfortable in requesting time to reflect – it’s a sign of emotional intelligence!

No-one is perfect, we all make mistakes.  Whether you are the person who get upset easily, the person who flies off the handle, or whether you’re the person who is oblivious to the impact your words have, paying particular attention to the last tip might just help when your faced with your next tense work situation.  And you will be – there is always going to be a stressful deadline, an uncomfortable meeting or an angry client to handle.  If you can, step outside the office for a moment, take a couple of breath of fresh air, and let the emotions subside.  Handling things calmly is the best way to get the best outcome for everyone involved!


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