My whole life I have clung to the phrase, "I hate conflict." Conflict makes me feel sick to my stomach. I took a naturally occurring or deeply ingrained part of myself and ingrained it further by repeating it to myself as if it were a solid, unmovable piece of who I am--"I am someone who can't handle conflict, who hates conflict, who avoids conflict"--as opposed to a characteristic that, like all characteristics, can be refined, changed, and can evolve with work and practice.
I've started telling myself a different story about myself. I've started saying, "I can do hard things" when I start to feel that knot forming in my stomach, those waves of anxiety that come with knowing something needs to be said about something that may cause conflict.
Today at one of my jobs an employee was crying because another team member had cussed and yelled at them. They said that they knew that other team member never talked to me that way (and they don't) but that they keep talking to them that way--taking their frustration out on them likely because they knew each other personally outside of the workplace. I said, "It's not okay for them to talk to you like that." I went back to my desk and thought about the situation. I thought about how they are the vulnerable party and they have tried to stand up for themselves but it wasn't working and how it would likely be more effective if I stood up for them. The parallels to the importance of white people speaking up and not accepting racist comments or acts against people of color, of men standing up and not accepting sexist comments or assault of women by other men, etc. really hitting home.
I went back to this employee and suggested a staff meeting. I said I would initiate and organize it and be by their side. They agreed. I got back to my desk and started panicking. The old narrative coming through--the knot forming. I researched tips for interoffice conflict resolution. I wrote down some thoughts and reformatted them. I heard myself say, "I can't do this." I took a breath. I replied, "I can do hard things." I contacted the team and organized a meeting. I typed up a document to hand out entitled: "Guidelines for Respectful & Effective Communication in the Workplace."
The time of the meeting came and I ran it. Calmly. Effectively. And it was so productive. I helped steer the communication towards actionable steps to improve things and establish accountability. We found resolution. I'm so freaking proud of myself for making that happen. If I hadn't, feelings would have been swept under the rug and cycles would have continued. I know there will be on-going work to be done--but establishing these guidelines gives us all a clear place to work from.
I think these guidelines are good for all people in all situations, so here they are:
Guidelines for Respectful & Effective Communication in the Workplace
1.) Assume everyone is doing their best and wants to do their job well.
2.) Treat others with respect. Respect other’s space, mental health, time constraints, and workload.
3.) When frustrated or angry, take a deep breath and focus on finding a solution together, rather than expressing non-constructive frustration or placing blame. After the solution has been found and executed, go back over what caused the issue with distance and a clear head and implement ways to solve that issue so it doesn’t happen again in the future. Ask for help from others on the team in identifying solutions.
4.) Take responsibility for your part in any problems that occur and apologize. Accept other’s apologies and work together to find solutions.
5.) Yelling or cussing at each other is not respectful and will not be expected to be tolerated by any member of the team from any other member of the team.
6.) Remember daily we are all on the same team and united in our goal of serving our clients, as well as creating a stable, safe, effective, and positive workplace. Work together to create that for and with each other.
7.) Acknowledge positive actions and encourage each other to do better each day.
And lastly, know that you can do hard things. Even if they scare you. Even if they don't come naturally to you.
You are not stuck in who you've been. You have and can continue to evolve. You can make different choices. You can choose to cultivate a new attitude and head space. You can stand up for yourself and others. You can tell a different story.