Communication at your workplace just might consist of name calling, hair pulling and octaves of obscenities -- if your job is being filmed by a reality show. If not, then it's in your best interest to keep communication at work free of drama. Confrontations happen when either (or both) parties imagine themselves to be on opposing sides. Nonconfrontational communication requires everyone to put aside their differences and work toward a common goal.
Never say anything to (or about) your co-workers that you wouldn’t want them to say to (or about) you. That means no gossiping about the fact that Mary has a boyfriend and a husband, and no complaining to Todd about how Sarah always hogs the copy machine after lunch. Remember you’re at work, not in the schoolyard. If the business you’re talking about isn’t work business or your business, find something else to talk about. And if you have a work-related issue with a co-worker, tell her to her face in a way that is polite, professional and solution-oriented. If you’re having trouble keeping cool, take a break or get a mediator.
All communication with your co-workers should be fundamentally based on the fact that you respect their ideas and overall contributions to the workplace. Even if you disagree with their approach, remember that you’re on the same team and each player has value. If you communicate with the underlying assumption that they’re wrong and you’re right, tensions (and voices) will inevitably rise, but if you communicate from the standpoint that you share common ground and mutual goals, a compromise will appear.
Nonverbal communication also plays a role in avoiding work confrontation. Behaviors that could be interpreted as combative include eye rolling, finger or toe tapping, folding your arms in front of your chest, sighing and lip smacking. Keep your facial expressions and body language in check -- make direct eye contact, smile, and keep your stance open and your limbs relaxed.
Listen instead of waiting for your turn to talk, to keep simple communication from exploding into confrontation. Nod politely while your co-workers are talking to show you’re hearing every word they say. Summarize their points before making your own to avoid misunderstanding; for example, “Just to make sure you’re on the same page . . .” or “So what you’re saying is . . .” or “Let me make sure I heard you correctly . . .”
Use neutral speech when confronting co-workers. Avoid accusatory statements that begin with “you,” such as, “You always take my stapler,” or “You didn’t help me at all with my project,” or “Your reports are always late and it holds up the process.” Co-workers will likely be more receptive to constructive criticism if they don’t feel attacked. Use language that focuses on the event rather than the person. For example, “When my stapler is missing, it slows down my productivity,” or “When one person’s reports are late it affects processes across the entire office,” or “The overall quality of my project suffered because I didn’t have any help.”
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.