Mindfully managing work stress and conflict

Quote of the Day:

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone,
including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

~Pema Chodron


One of the most common complaints from employees in the self-care workshops I lead is the challenge of working with different personalities. Whether you are actually supervising people or not, a top stressor in the work environment is dealing with people we work with. We each have our own personalities, temperaments, motivations, and communication styles that we bring to the table. These differences can be complementary and become one of our teams’ greatest assets or they can lead to division, tension and ultimately conflict. I appreciate Pema’s wise words on dealing with others. I think if we approach the work environment from this compassionate perspective it can diffuse intense emotions that might otherwise lead to toxic interactions that create a corrosive work environment.

Sometimes we are lucky and end up with colleagues who are a great fit, but what do we do when that isn’t the case? My experience has taught me that using the skills of mindfulness can help us navigate challenging relationships in the workplace. For example, the skill of present moment awareness without judgment helps us to understand others and use compassion instead of anger. Could it be this person is having a bad day? Perhaps he or she is struggling with something I don’t know about. Perhaps this person is triggered or feels anxious, stressed or worried. Practicing compassion doesn’t mean we passively accept toxic behavior from another, but it does allow us to soften a bit. When we seek to understand others, they might soften a bit too. I am not saying we don’t assert our own needs and preferences. We must absolutely be willing to speak up about any inappropriate behavior. However, in a work setting we usually have shared objectives that we can use as common ground to stand on. We can then choose to interact with others using a collaborative approach (“let’s problem solve together using our strengths”) instead of an argumentative one (“you’re wrong, I’m right, now just do what I say”).

One of the most important skills we can practice at work (and at home) is recognizing each other’s strengths and contributions. We can strive to foster an environment of mutual respect, while promoting healthy boundaries and limit setting when needed. Sometimes saying no to a request is necessary. Taking time off and taking mindful breaks is also important.  Being mindful of our own needs and preferences and learning to communicate them is critical. After all, we are not responsible for other people’s behaviors, only our own. Finally, when all else fails, understanding when it might be time to move on from an unresolvable situation is important. We can make healthy changes in our lives when necessary – one mindful step at a time.

Today’s Practice:

Seek to understand before being understood. If a difficult situation arises with a peer, boss or client try to put yourself in that person’s shoes for a minute. Consider what this person is trying to communicate. Even if you don’t agree with their style of communication you can extend the gift of compassion in the moment. Notice if any of your defense mechanisms come up. Recognize your body sensations and emotions. Ground yourself by taking a deep breath and don’t cave in to the urge to counter-attack, argue or get your point across right away. Take a break if you have to. Ask for time to think it over. Say, “I’ll get back to you” or “I need some time to think this over.” Go out for a walk and fresh air or go to the bathroom and splash water on your face. Take time to unwind and think it through. Don’t let emotion mind take over. Take care of yourself first and give yourself time to respond later. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write a journal entry about what makes work most challenging for you at this time.

Are there particular conflicts happening? Are you bored or uninterested in your work? Is it too demanding or not demanding enough? Are you dealing with a long stressful commute?

Describe the stresses you are experiencing in your current work life. Then describe the benefits and what you appreciate about your job and the work you do. What would you change if you could? Reflect on this information and discuss it with a confidante. Talk about it with your therapist, a friend or mentor whom you trust.

Remember, every job has its pros and cons. Notice what’s working for you and what’s not working for you. Start taking mindful steps towards making the change in your life that you are seeking, or practice acceptance of your current difficulties knowing that the benefits make it worthwhile to stay (at least for now).

This article was written by Sofia Reddy and originally published in the New Leaf Meditation Project for the 7-day mindfulness challenge in August, 2016, hosted by Anthony Cernera and Sofia Reddy. Some edits have been made.


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