When two people clash and it is so avoidable

Have you seen the birthday card with a couple of hard-of-hearing elderly people having a conversation? It goes something like this:

“It’s windy today”
“No, it’s Thursday”
“So am I, let’s have a cup of tea”

This is an amusing greetings card, but have you ever heard anyone at work having a similar conversation? No, not due to deafness, but due to lack of concentration because they are preoccupied with other tasks rather than listening properly. Especially these days with so many phones, tablets and computers competing for our attention.

I was aghast recently, listening to two people in the board room having a conversation that quickly became more and more heated. All because neither party gave their full attention to the other at the beginning of the conversation. It went something like this:

Person A: “I’m actually pretty good at having an open door policy. My teams know they can come into my office anytime to discuss issues”

Person B: “Are you saying that I don’t help my people the same way?”

Person B was distracted and took the comment as a criticism and misconstrued the meaning, a common mistake when we are preoccupied and stressed.

Person A: “I didn’t say that but now you come to mention it, I did hear someone in the corridor complain that they couldn’t get to see you”

Person A’s reply is defensive and counterattacks to try to gain some control.

And so, the heat began to rise. Nonsense, isn’t it? Misunderstandings and misinterpretations are quite frankly toxic and can create conflict with devastating effects on productivity, team work and collaboration as well as poor health due to anxiety and even spill over to poor customer service.

How might the board room conversation have gone?

Person A: “I’m actually pretty good at having an open door policy. My teams know they can come into my office anytime to discuss issues”

Person B: “Well done. How do you communicate that to your people, so that they don’t take advantage of your generosity?”

Person A will then feel flattered and a debate is opened for an honest discussion about an open door policy.

Virtually every conflict in the world is due to poor communication. Being constantly aware of what you are saying and giving people your full attention can contribute greatly to staff working together for the good of the company, whilst avoiding you having to navigate the treacherous waters of conflict.

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