Conflict in the workplace will elicit many different reactions. Some people love the drama, while others would rather hide under their desks until the commotion subsides. Regardless of whether or not you thrive on conflict, lack of effective communication at your job can cause quite a bit of anxiety. People stop talking to one another, they start collecting mountains of grievances, and the environment can become downright toxic.
Reducing anxiety in the workplace requires more than mindfulness exercises or a yoga class every now and then. You must also examine how you function in workplace system and how you deal with others. Do you hide from your boss? Do you gossip with your coworker in the neighboring cubicle? Do you want to speak up until you’re seething with anger or bursting into tears? There are a few simple strategies you can start examining and practicing to help you arrive at work calmer and not take worries home with you.
Stay in Contact
It’s human instinct to avoid or cut off contact with people who make us uncomfortable, and the work place is no exception. Maybe you stop replying to emails that you don’t know how to answer. Or perhaps you avoid the break room after you’ve had a disagreement with a bullying coworker. Maybe you try and duck out for the day before your boss can catch you with a question. The problem with avoidance is that it’s only a very temporary solution. That twisting feeling in your stomach or other anxious symptoms will only get worse over time the more you use distance as a way to manage disagreement, confusion, or other difficult emotions.
Contact is a muscle you have to flex to make it stronger. The more you approach problems and communication head on, the less anxious it will make you over the long term. Great leaders have the ability to maintain contact with people who have different points of view or styles of work. Staying in contact can also help you improve on saying “no” to additional responsibilities that make you overworked and less effective in your job.
Many workplaces are built on gossiping about coworkers or venting about others. Though this might provide temporarily relief or entertainment, it only serves to build up tension and stress. You can almost feel it floating in the air when an office is full of this kind of negativity. Bonding with someone by talking about a third person is called “triangling,” and it’s an unhealthy way to manage anxiety. Examples of triangles might include gossiping about a third person, criticizing someone behind their back, and using them as a scapegoat.
Though it might be tempting to vent to a coworker, consider how you can keep the issue between you and the person with whom you have conflict. Though it might be difficult at first, you can reduce your anxiety by approaching the individual and communicating the facts of the situation. Tell them you’d like to reach a resolution and are motivated to create an open and honest workplace. If you’re an employer or supervisor, consider how you can encourage employees to work out conflict between themselves and approach you honestly if they have an issue with your leadership.
Focus on the Facts
Your mind and emotions can feel pulled in many different directions when you feel overloaded, under-appreciated or misunderstood. The best way to lower anxiety is to control the conversation and what’s communicated. Try to verbalize what specifically is causing your anxiety and ask other people share their views. Then be sure to express how you’d like to this specific conflict to be resolved. Focus on the facts of the situation, and stay in the present. This probably isn’t the best time to pull up past grievances, no matter how relevant they may seem.
It will be tempting to pull out your arsenal of complaints when you feel reactive, but lowering anxiety is not about winning. It’s about resolving. Try to avoid emotionally charged exaggerations that use words like “always” or “never.” Begin your sentences with “I” statements, because “You” sounds too accusatory. If you’re concerned about a volatile reaction from a coworker, then consider having a mediator, usually an HR rep, join the conversation.
Remember, though anxiety is an unpleasant emotion, it’s also an opportunity for you to grow in your career. The more you face anxiety in the workplace rather than run away from it or simply complain about it, the more significant a stressor will have to be to make you feel off your game. In short, you won’t sweat over an opportunity to communicate like a mature human.