Workplace Bullying & Conflict: 3 Conversation Barriers That Keep You From Having Productive Conversation

Workplace Bullying & Conflict: 3 Conversation Barriers That Keep You From Having Productive Conversations

What’s the difference between a conversation and an argument? In a conversation people are listening, in an argument people are busy using aggressive tactics to win. Here are 3 behaviors that get in the way of having a conversation. (There are more than these behaviors but these are three I find quite often in my work as a conflict consultant.)

Argument Behaviors that are Barriers to Your Conversation

Conversation Barrier #1: Screaming

Not to sound too obvious, but if you catch yourself screaming at your conversation partner, chances are this is no longer a conversation but more like verbal punching practice. People who scream do so because they want to bully someone into believing they are right. What is true is that when people hear screaming they assume that you are wrong.

Remedy: Don’t Try to Be Right and Speak Softly

Be open to opportunity. Listen carefully and don’t prepare what you are going to say while the other person is talking. It’s okay, you don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but you do have to know exactly what they said if you really want to communicate. Next, control your voice and so keep a better handle over yourself and your emotions. Screaming frightens the screamer, and the screamee. Our own screaming tells our brain that we are in danger. If you remain calm, you will be able to listen to other points of view and may actually solve the problem (and be right). But just bullying to be right doesn’t make it so.

Conversation Barrier #2: Making Accusations

This is deciding in advance what the person has or hasn’t done before you communicate with them, and then hurling an accusation at them as an opening remark. This is a quick way to make the other person defensive and hostile. Which will make you hostile, in return. And then we’re back to the screaming.

Remedy: Being Curious

Be curious and you will be inquisitive, calm, and less provoking. Even if you think you know exactly what happened, let go of your preconceptions and be genuinely curious about what the other person has to say. This all might be a terrible misunderstanding. Or, perhaps you jumped to conclusions. Or you might be right. Whatever the outcome, you’ll never find out the real story if you have already made up your mind.

Conversation Barrier #3: Being Defensive

If your conversation partner comes out swinging with screaming and accusations, shouldn’t you defend yourself with counter-screaming, counter-accusations, and angry excuses? Well, if you want a really impressive argument that they’ll hear from three blocks away, then that might be a good strategy. However, this will leave you both more hostile, more angry, more aggressive, and worse off than you were before. There’s no possibility you will come to any resolution this way.

Remedy: Being Calm and Patient

Be calm and patient so you can be open to other perspectives. What happens when you don’t yell back? There’s no argument. You remain calm (at least on the outside, you can call me and vent afterwards, if you need to). You have an opportunity to listen and learn something about the other person. You wait out the yelling and then find a moment to switch from arguing to conversing.  There’s no hurry here. Breathe. If the timing is wrong, walk away and find an opportunity to have a calm conversation.

Arguing vs. Conversing: No Contest

With arguing, screaming ensues, work halts, productivity plummets, you lose the opportunity to learn something new and helpful, you trash your reputation, you alienate others, you look and sound like a bully, you lose, they lose, everybody loses. But if you give up having to be right, you can be curious, calm and patient. You actually have a chance at communicating and solving the problem. And the reason you’re having a conversation in the first place is to solve a problem, right?

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I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here. I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.