Stressed by Colleagues who Disagree with You?

Workplaces can be hazardous to your emotional and mental health – especially when you work with folks you don’t necessarily like or who don’t see things the way you do.  What to do?

Let’s assume you’d feel better about where you work if you were less stressed by those around you.  And, let’s assume that you’re the only person you really control.  Here’s my suggestion:  first of all, refuse to take things personally.  Rather, assume an attitude of wonder and civility.  Here’s what I mean:

  1. As I said, when someone says something that offends you, or with which you vehemently disagree, listen but refuse to take it in or to let it become part of you.  Refuse to take it personally even if you think it was meant as an insult.  Rather, as you  listen,  suspend judgment and maintain a sense of wonder:  Think, “I wonder why she said that?  I wonder what she meant by that?”  Then talk with her to find out!
  2.  Remain flexible: No one is always right (that means you, too, could be wrong – I know I sometimes am).  So listen to other points of view and retain the right to change your mind if you’re swayed by another opinion.  Expand your view of the world and its many complex issues.  I’m not suggesting you have to make a radical change in what you believe, but remain open to hearing another perspective.  Few complex issues are black and white.  Understand that there’s gray and that you can see some of that gray without giving up any integrity.  Remember: for every complex problem there is a simple, easy to understand wrong solution.
  3. When interacting with someone, demonstrate empathy.  Work to really listen, and listen actively: don’t form your responses or criticize the other person’s comments in your head while they’re talking.  Work to understand where they’re coming from and why (understanding is not the same as agreeing) and communicate your understanding to them.  Work to understand both the content of what they’re saying and the feeling behind it.  Check your understanding of what they’re feeling with a comment like, “So you feel angry that everyone has to attend diversity training…” and listen to their response without judgment.  Change your understanding of their feeling based on what they tell you.
  4. Never stoop to name-calling or labeling.  Using words like “racist” or “hate-monger” or “slut” or “idiot” only serves to break down communication.  These words never help create civil discourse among reasonable people, and they’re guaranteed to increase workplace stress.  If someone else is using such a term in conversation with you, do not take it personally.  Use the tips above, and bring the conversation to a more civil place.
  5. Finally, never assume you know more about what’s really going on in the other person’s head than they do.  You will inevitably lose that argument.  So, don’t tell others they’re unmotivated or have a bad attitude or feel this way or that.  You can only watch how they behave and listen to their words.  Other than that, you don’t really know what the other person is thinking or feeling.

In yesterday’s Seattle Times, Charles C. Camosy, assistant professor of Christian Ethics at Fordham University in New York City and author of “Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization” provides a great review of these and other tips for creating dialogue and understanding with those who see the world differently than we do.  Check it out.

Do you have other ideas for interacting successfully in the workplace with those who disagree with us?  We’d love to hear them!  ~Daphne Schneider

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