Timing key to clearing the air

Updated: 2013-04-10T05:08:37Z


Special to The Star

Communication is essential, but when people communicate at the wrong time, and in the wrong way, workplace relationships can get messy.

When we work together, we often assume that people have the same values, the same points of reference.

We observe over time that people think differently and choose to act differently than we would, yet we still find ourselves surprised and annoyed by their latest actions.

But when people communicate when they should and how they should, you may not like the results created by another, but you aren’t blindsided by them, either.

For example, I know of a situation in which one manager interrupted the meeting another manager had with a group of people. The interruption was brief and harmless on the part of the first manager. but the other manager found it disruptive and disrespectful.

The second manager could have let his feelings about the interruption fester. He could have complained to others, including their mutual boss. He could have snapped at the first manager the next time it happened.

He did none of the above. He merely went to his fellow manager’s office the day of the incident, when he was calm, and explained the problem and why he would like to avoid it happening again.

Yes, the first manager briefly got a little defensive. But with the issue being handled in a direct, timely and non-accusatory fashion, the offending manager quickly self-corrected with an apology and a commitment to be more thoughtful in the future.

Contrast that to another situation between two employees in a department where one engaged in behavior the other found offensive and rude. The situation festered, grew, snowballed and eventually mutated far beyond the original issue.

With these two employees, fast forward several events to an incident that left the formerly offended employee enraged and highly critical.

That’s because allowing issues to go unaddressed created a buildup of resentment and anger. Worse, because the original incident was never dealt with, everything from that point forward seemed intentional and deliberate. Each is convinced that any harm created by the other person must be intentional because why would someone choose to think the “wrong” way.

The only way that there is ever a fighting chance for people to avoid these kinds of painful, disruptive conflicts is communication.

And not communication with others (especially since those others will usually be someone who shares your perspective), but communication with the person who has the difference of viewpoint.

The willingness to be awkward, uncomfortable, potentially ticked off and maybe even a little hurt is usually a temporary rite of passage on the road to a better working relationship with that person.

An exchange of timely and respectful thoughts and views — no matter how divergent — can often lead to enhanced results.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.

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