I recently had the privilege of consulting with Bob, an extremely competent employee who was the recipient of an abrasive boss.  The purpose of the consultation was to help Bob gain skills to improve collaboration in the workplace while setting expectations of being treated with respect and civility. The tone of his voice and overall demeanor conveyed fear as he shared a variety of examples of being micromanaged, publicly humiliated, and spoken to in condescending ways.  He was understandingly concerned about losing his job.

After discussing a variety of conflict management strategies and the dynamics of abrasive bosses, he spontaneously stated “I’m excited to talk to my boss”.  Then I got excited that he was excited because I could hear a shift in his tone of voice and confidence!

Anxiety is natural

When facing either a difficult conversation or any challenging situation, it is natural to feel anxious.  While a moderate amount of anxiety can mobilize you to take positive action such as in-depth preparation, extreme anxiety can diminish your brain power, ability to process information, and confidence.  You may try to remedy your nerves by saying to yourself “calm down” yet continue to dwell on the situation not going well.  In reality, very few people can calm down immediately due to the physiological fight or flight response.  What can you do instead?

Mindset conflict strategy:  Shift your interpretation

Research by Alison Wood Brooks, professor at Harvard Business School, has validated that when you are in an anxious state your mindset is focused on the threat of the situation.  Instead, when you deliberately interpret the challenge in a positive light, you can shift more easily from an anxious state to a calm state simply by how you interpret your circumstances.  The meaning you give to a stressful event will dictate your mental focus and body language.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For example when Bob stated “I’m excited”, he was giving a positive meaning to his meeting with his boss by focusing on excitement rather than anxiety.   Instead of facing his boss with fear, he was equipped with calm, confidence, and composure.  He had shifted his mindset so that a difficult conversation was set up for a positive outcome.

Make the conscious choice to giving positive meaning to your next challenging conversation and you will handle workplace conflict with ease