Bringing the blues back to work

Written by Jess McPherson, Resolution Coordinator
 

Introduction

Finding it difficult to get back into work after returning from holiday? Is conflict with family and co-workers making it hard to focus on what is important? Fair Way is here to help! [1] Read on to understand how interpersonal conflict at home can impact on work and the ways that individual wellbeing and conflict resolution techniques can support you through this time.
 

Examples 

Misdirection of stress
The first few months of the calendar year can be a difficult period for some. The holiday period can give us more free time to worry and worsen existing stressors (such as financial pressure). Weeks may pass, but the worries don’t. In fact, they may get worse, and fears may seem more real. Sometimes this stress comes out at the wrong time and the wrong person, in the office or at the family dinner table. This misdirection can lead to further disagreements down the road in the weeks that follow, while the original stress remains unresolved.  

Here is an example of misdirection and how it can escalate:

Tyler cannot afford an expensive gift for his cousin Charlie, while Charlie can afford to buy expensive gifts for the whole family. Upset by the reminder of financial struggles and feeling ‘less than’, Tyler responds by venting to Tania that Charlie enjoys showing off. When Charlie hears about this, the rest of the day is spent with tension between Tyler and Charlie. 

Charlie returns to the office in the New Year, hurt by what has happened, and gets more upset after hearing about co-workers relaxing over Christmas. Charlie then vents this hurt by harshly scolding a junior member of staff, over a minor error. The junior member of staff then makes a bullying complaint against Charlie, leading to further conflict in the office.  

Proximity 
Proximity can intensify disagreements in our biological and work families. This is because all relationships have ups and downs and spending more time with each other than usual (such as at a family bach, or back at the office together after time away) can turn minor quarrels into larger conflicts.  

Here is an example of how proximity can exacerbate a problem:

Over the year Maia has gradually become frustrated at work, as she feels micromanaged by her boss. She then returns to her hometown for Easter and stays with her parents. After a few days, they fall back into old routines and roles, with Maia feeling irritated at being told what to do. She ends up cutting the trip short and leaving early.  

Maia then returns to the office, and a few weeks later her boss moves to the desk next to her, for closer oversight of her work. Frustrated at the feeling of being controlled, Maia then applies to work from home to avoid her boss, while the frustration she feels remains unresolved.

Miscommunication 
‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ [2] With the best of intentions, what we say and hear can get lost in translation. This miscommunication can then lead to misunderstandings and spiral into an out-of-control conflict situation.  

Here is an example of how miscommunication can develop into wider issues:

Aria booked tickets home for the time between Easter and ANZAC weekends, to surprise her family. Her family, thinking she wouldn’t make it home, booked a holiday over that time and didn’t tell her so she wouldn’t feel left out.  

Aria then decides to work over this time and take leave in May instead. Not all her coworkers are aware of this, and so she ends up missing a work party arranged for May. Aria now feels resentful towards both her family and coworkers, and she feels excluded from both occasions. This unhappy series of events has the potential to continue developing into further conflict.
 

Individual Wellbeing Strategies [3]

Connect
Meaningful connections are so important in helping to manage life’s turmoil. Having support outside of family and the workplace is key, especially when dealing with conflict in those other areas.

Make relationships a priority by setting aside time to spend with people you like and love. If this is proving difficult, try to find new ways of putting yourself out there to meet people.  

Be Active
This means different things to different people, just remember that something is better than nothing! Keeping moving has great benefits for the mind and body, is a great way to reduce stress and make new friends. It is a good time to work through issues that may be going on and can put you in a better frame of mind for dealing with them.

Give
‘Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures…’ [4] Looking outward by doing an act of kindness or by being there for a friend is a great way to take your mind off things and gain perspective on your own troubles. It also allows you to nurture important connections and gives people the opportunity to reciprocate and be there for you when you need it, helping to build better relationships and reducing the chance of future conflict.

Take notice and be present
Be aware of what is going on around you. This can mean taking time out to stop and reflect. It can also mean being generally aware of yourself and environment, and any changes that need to be made as you move forward if you are struggling with conflict.

It can be helpful to talk through what is happening with an independent third party. Organisations often have a list of support services such as EAP or an Employee Liaison Service.
 

Conflict Resolution Strategies [5]

Acknowledge the conflict

If you are feeling down, set aside time to think about why or talk it through with a close friend or independent third party. Consider your relationships and whether there is any tension that may be contributing to low mood. Remember that putting the conversation off, will not resolve the issue.

Define the issue

Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” [6] Once you have acknowledged that there is a relationship issue, make it clear in your own mind what this might be. This could mean writing down or talking through with a trusted neutral party what specific event or behaviours upset you, and why. It is also helpful to consider the perspective of the other person, while keeping an open mind and being careful not to make assumptions before hearing the other side.

Decide how you will communicate this

Think about what you want to say to the other person. Reflect on your trigger points and what you do to keep calm when emotions are running high. Have the conversation at a quiet place and time, and make sure you have space and support afterwards to process. Try to have these discussions on the phone or in person to decrease the chance of miscommunication and further conflict. By doing this, you can deal with any follow-up questions and things like intonation, timing and body language also have a big part to play. By contrast, communicating via email can make tone difficult to gauge, and messages can be misinterpreted.

Plan

Before, during and after the conversation, ask yourself: “What would resolve this issue for me?” If you can, ask the other person the same question from their perspective. This can help make the conversation future-focused and assist in deciding the next steps.

Next steps can involve whatever is meaningful to the parties in resolving the conflict. This could be one or both people understanding or acknowledging the others perspective and committing to changed behaviour going forward.

It could also mean escalating the dispute to a more formal process such as a mediation, where an experienced practitioner can support the parties to resolve the conflict.

To help with the above, Fair Way offer a range of workplace services to help people at different stages of the conflict spectrum. For example, Kāpehu is a workplace conflict coaching service we provide to help people talk through their workplace concerns and decide what they want to do about them, or to help prepare for difficult scenarios. Kāpehu helps you take potential conflict and turn it into a productive conversation - entering a safe and confidential space with a problem, and leaving with a plan.

We also offer early dispute resolution services such as facilitation and mediation, along with training specifically designed for people leaders who need to have difficult conversations with their teams about COVID-19 related issues or other matters.

If you would like to find out more about Fair Way’s workplace services including coaching and training programmes, please get in touch via workplace@fairwayresolution.com or 0800 77 44 08.

 

About the author

Photo - Jess McPherson

Jess McPherson (LLB) is a Resolution Institute accredited mediator working in the Commercial team at Fair Way Resolution Limited. The focus of her role is on coordinating and facilitating disputes in the commercial space & working with parties to support them in resolving their issues.

If you would like to get in touch with Jess, please contact her by email at jess.mcpherson@fairwayresolution.com or call on 04 918 4926.

 

Footnotes

[1] Fair Way website - https://www.fairwayresolution.com/our-services

[2] Quote by George Bernard Shaw

[3] All Right? website -  https://www.allright.org.nz/articles/five-ways-to-wellbeing

[4] Quote by Dodie Smith

[5] The Top 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies for the Workplace by Sonya Krakoff - https://online.champlain.edu/blog/top-conflict-resolution-strategies

[6] Quote by Albert Einstein