leadership

How to deal with uneasy tension in the office

Fred Schebesta /

As a business owner, one thing is inevitable, and that is workplace tension. People who work together every day under the stress of a work environment are bound to encounter tension at some time or another.

Not only does this often cause division in the ranks but affected employees are often unproductive, and handling the situation usually takes time, all of which is not good for a company.

Defining tension and conflict and why it’s not always a negative

Tension and conflict can be anything that causes employees to disagree, compete with each other, or even hate one another. This tension is often never verbalised or seen by people who can help or prevent it until it is too late.

Most people think of conflict and tension as a negative. However, in a business, conflict and tension, if well managed, can be positive and allow employees to grow. A business that has no conflict and tension is often stagnant; people are not challenging one another and bringing new creative ideas to the table. It is how the tension is managed and controlled that is important, not always the reason for the tension. Even a situation in which productive conflict is occurring could quickly get out of control, and cause more harm than good.

Whatever the pros and cons of tension, the majority of people do not like it. They try to avoid it rather than confront the situation, even if resolving the tension is better for everybody involved. This is possibly the most dangerous aspect of tension in that if it is left unaddressed the situation can reach a boiling point. This can cause far greater damage than had the conflict been addressed at the beginning.

Steps to manage tension effectively

Address the situation early and directly: As a business owner or manager, addressing tension and conflict as soon as possible is critical. There will be times when you may be the reason or party to the tension; here it is even more important that you take a lead role in resolving the tension. Speak about the problem using professional courtesy but not shying away from the important and sometimes difficult situations that may be causing the tension. If this is done properly and quickly it can often lead to a situation that is more positive for all involved.

There are three sides to every story: Listening to both sides is an important aspect of tension management, however, there are actually three sides to any story: “my side”, “your side” and the truth. It is often helpful to take each party aside separately to find out their concerns, but over and above this try to find a neutral party who may have witnessed or seen the conflict from a different angle.

Talk it out: Once you have addressed the parties separately, tension will not be resolved until the parties are able to talk face to face. This must always be done with a mediator who can remain objective. The mediator would have heard both sides and can better portray the feelings of each party to the other.

Build on common ground: No matter how much conflict and tension there may be between two parties there is usually something that can agree on. Using this as a foundation, one can more easily bridge the gap between the conflicting parties.

Compromise is often the answer to resolution: In a working relationship, resolution must be reached as people need to continue working together. Each party may be very fixed on their point of view. However, compromise is essential to find a resolution that allows everyone to continue with business as usual.

Negative feelings need to be confronted: Negative feelings that came up during the conflict needed to be confronted. If they have not been fully worked out they need to be brought up again. If this is not done effectively in the beginning things may look like they are sorted out only to resurface sometime later.

Avoiding negative tension in the workplace by creating a positive and productive work environment

Although tension is inevitable there are things that a business owner or manager can do to reduce the chance of conflict and tension happening. Having an environment where employees feel like they are part of the bigger picture and buy into owners’ and management’s vision for the company play a big part in employee happiness.

Have something in place where employees feel they can anonymously air their grievances, be this a management open door policy, or a suggestion box. Do whatever it takes to reduce tension by seeing any potential for tension before it happens.

Resolving tension is integral to keeping a happy and productive work environment. The only way to deal with tension is to face it, as uncomfortable as this might be – ignoring tension could be one of the most dangerous things you could do as a business owner or manager.

This was written by veteran online entrepreneur Fred Schebesta, for any questions you can reach out to him on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and his blog.

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Fred Schebesta

Fred Schebesta is the chief executive and co-founder of finder.com.au, one of Australia’s largest financial comparison websites.

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