This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of North Bay Biz

By Diana Laczkowski, The Personnel Perspective

Generally, problem solving evolves; teams become more adept with practice.

Differences of opinion, approach and perception are commonplace in our lives, and even more so in our workplaces.

When differences are discussed and worked through properly, people can move forward without much disruption. Unfortunately, there are many situations where that necessary discussion doesn’t happen, and the result is a workplace culture filled with negative and unproductive feelings, such as emotional distress, confusion, resentment, anxiety and anger.

Ask why

There are many workplace scenarios that can result in differences of opinion. The most damaging of these occur when the “why” isn’t explored. In our fast-paced work environments, taking time to understand what’s happening and why often gets pushed aside for the sake of deadlines, lack of empowerment by one or more of the people involved, top-down authority and/or deference to an individual who has discomfort with discussing differences. In many cases, we think actions and decisions should be solely based on facts or evidence, and the underlying emotional experience is often ignored.

Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ)

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize emotions in ourselves and their effect on others through self- awareness, self-management, social awareness (or empathy) and relationship management. The goal is to become open-minded enough to adjust in these areas by knowing our strengths and limitations, as well as sensing others’ feelings and respecting their perspective. By doing so, we maximize our personal state of being which, in turn, improves our interactions and relationships.

The more adept a person is with EQ, the better the understanding of how to navigate differences using our higher brain functions. We need to get past the “fight or flight” responses and be fully present in mind and heart for the most dynamic resolutions to happen. When misunderstandings are addressed from a mature emotional state, we can actually start to feel more engaged and respected and are able to move forward with better actions or decisions.

Respect between colleagues—a consideration or regard for each other’s perspective and feelings—is one of the most important elements of true collaboration. It’s vital that respect involve an open, nonjudgmental approach at the outset and can be sustained. A person’s level of self-worth can be shaken in a continued blaming, shaming and judgmental environment.

Resolving conflict

To truly reach synchronicity in the workplace:

  • Check assumptions and identify the real issues and sources of conflict;
  • Take a deep breath (this is an important step) and give the other person the benefit of the doubt;
  • Actively listen, clarify facts (versus feelings) and proceed with no blame or judgment;
  • Depersonalize the situation and look for common ground;
  • Stay engaged and explore ideas; identify options or alternate solutions;
  • Take personal responsibility for your part of the communication breakdown or relationship mistrust;
  • Be willing to change your behavior (everyone contributes) towards a more positive outcome;
  • Mutually agree on actions or decisions and determine who will do what, by when. Put this in writing to reinforce
  • Intention and implementation;
  • Check in, follow up and reinforce what’s going well, review what needs to be changed and continue to stay engaged.

Other influences

Other factors that impact working relationships include the organizational structure and culture, different values, motivations or interests. In the fact-finding stage of a conflict, identifying as many of the contributing factors as possible will lead to better problem solving. Also, the managers’ communication skill level shouldn’t be ignored in the review of issues. For example, two managers from different areas of a company may be giving direction on a project that can be interpreted differently based on self-interest or respective priorities. The quality of the collaboration of those two managers will influence their teams (for better or for worse) and, more important, the project’s flow and outcome.

Quality of partnerships varies depending on a team’s skill level directly related to their emotional maturity and ability to be open and nonjudgmental. Generally, problem solving evolves; teams become more adept with practice, and there’s a shared satisfaction that brings the gratification we all seek in our day-to-day work environments.

This is a small window into developing emotional awareness and resolving misunderstandings in the workplace. Training in this area can be advantageous for all employees, especially managers and leaders in organizations that want to have a cooperative and positive work environment.