“One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.”

— Earl Wilson, American Journalist, Columnist and Author

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A study of 5,000 employees in Europe and the Americas found co-workers spend an average of 2.1 hours a week engaging in conflict. This squabbling amounts to $359 billion in lost productivity per year in the U.S. alone.1 A separate study, conducted by the World Health Organization, estimated that workplace stress is costing American businesses up to $300 billion per year.2

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Stress is everywhere and colleague-to-colleague conflict is just one of several under fire scenarios. Additional under fire scenarios simultaneously playing out in the workplace include:

  • Executives strong-arming their employees to deliver at breakneck speeds against implausible timelines while employees fruitlessly try their best.
  • Internal customers skewering then slow-cooking their internal service providers for name-the-reason because it’s easier to blame, throw people under the bus and inflict pain during chaotic times versus collaborate, co-solution and co-solve.
  • Co-workers yanking, tugging and pulling each other at a frenetic pace to quickly plug the holes in the workload dyke as conflicting priorities and resource scarcity battle it out.

And you — unfortunately you’re being drawn into the under fire drama like a moth to a flame when instead, you should be mastering the art of maintaining your cool in a messy world. Is this even possible? Absolutely, though I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. For some, it will require a fundamental shift in how we think plus operate. For most, it will require varying levels of hard work and practice depending on our starting point. But if our goal is to appreciate, honor and optimize the life that we’ve graciously been given — after all, we only have one shot at this, right? — let’s do whatever it takes to preserve our spirit, our joy and our sanity!

How do I attain mastery?         

The ability to keep our cool under the most taxing circumstances has nothing to do with luck. Cool under fire mastery starts with a mentally healthy behavioral foundation that ultimately serves as our springboard whereby we  emotionally, maturely and wisely navigate through workplace turbulence of any type with relative ease. While we unequivocally can’t control or stop workplace turmoil, we absolutely can and must self-manage for two cogent reasons: 1) so we’re not contributing to the new-norm-crazy; and 2) to become under fire impervious.

And here’s how!

The cool under fire masters have adopted ironclad way-of-life philosophies, mindsets and behaviors that have allowed them to effectively operate in and negotiate through workplace upheaval while remaining above the fray.  The “best of the best” share the following common attributes — they are:

  • Harmoniously at ease. Psychologist, author and speaker, Gary Bradt, quintessentially defines “harmony” as being the state that we triumphantly achieve when we mindfully blend all aspects of our lives together, in unequal measure, to create a pleasing whole. As harmony advocates have adeptly deduced, chasing work-life balance is a losing proposition. The WLB concept suggests that we’re living two separate lives and somehow we’ll magically strike a state of equilibrium, where work and life will be equally weighted and prioritized. If only it were that simple. The reality — our lives are incredulously complex, oftentimes disjointed and pervasively time-stretched. With some intention and mindfulness, we can however, creatively mold and integrate the many odd-shaped fragments into a coherent, symbiotic collage that somehow feels right or harmonious — at least to us. When we attain harmonious order and remain vigilant in protecting its sanctity, our finely-tuned armor protects us from becoming entrapped in circumstances that could potentially alter our pleasurable state.
  • Happiness centered. When we enjoy most of the people we know, especially the important people in our lives such as family and friends, we tend to be more happy and lead a predominantly positive and tension-free life. The happier we are, the more we laugh, love life, creatively express ourselves, excitedly pursue our potential, actively listen to others, accept others’ differences, give others the benefit of the doubt, recognize that we can’t be happy all of the time, and the times when we’re unhappy, we do something constructive about it. When we’re centered and workplace fires ignite, they don’t become all-consuming. We simply take a pause, effectively handle them, then resume our chosen lifestyle. When we’re leading unhappy lives and that all too frequent fire strikes, we instantly spiral out of control. We close our minds, stop listening, criticize others, try to change others, take immovable stances, blow situations out of proportion, shut down, blame others for our circumstances, take offense at what others say and quickly jump into full frontal attack or defense postures.
  • Quietly confident. While some fires seemingly ignite without notice, others are smoldering, awaiting that perfect flashpoint. With the following in play — time and work-driven pressures, sleep deprivation, continuous connectivity, sheer exhaustion, collegial misunderstandings and disagreements, expectation misalignments, power struggles, professional identity competition, criticism, passive-aggression, verbal attacks, ethical disparities, culture and values discord — no wonder combustion becomes a likely inevitability. Those of us who have strong self-esteem underpinnings forged by an exemplary track record of positive outcomes, are able to tackle even the most potentially volatile scenarios with healthy detachment and ease. When we come from a place of not feeling the inclination or need to prove or defend who we are and what we stand for, we can quickly zero in on plus discern fact from fiction, logic-based reasoning from baseless outbursts and material issues from petty grievances.
  • Objectively curious. While we’re curious about a variety of topics that we find to be fun, interesting and exhilarating, we oftentimes draw the “let’s be curious” hard line when facing people and situations that aren’t joyful, fascinating or thrilling. Our protective shields automatically engage — propelling us from our carefree curious selves to our disinterested and even protectionist selves. When we do this, we’re cheating ourselves of the opportunity to ask thoughtful questions, observe revealing behaviors, engage in rich dialogue and see ourselves, our fellow human beings and the world around us through a more objective and mindful lens.
  • Lightheartedly buoyant. Paraphrasing Dr. Carrie Baron, psychiatrist and co-author of The Creative Cure: How to Build Happiness Within You Own Two Hands, when we approach life in a lighthearted manner, we are not denying nor being controlled by our concerns, but rather changing what we do or rather not do with them. By filling our minds with calming words and our bodies with air, we invite alternative thoughts, feelings and experiences into our world. When our worries move from all-consuming to just existing, lightheartedness — a “playful, involved detachment” — arises and helps us cope. When we’re under fire, lightheartedness allows us to be serious-minded and deeply caring without becoming excessively pensive and heavy-handed.     
  • Nimbly communicative. Whether we’re teetering on the cusp of a minor disagreement or embroiled in a Five-Alarm Fire, knowing what to say, how to say it, and when to say it, is vital to healthily forging ahead while never looking back. As examples, know how and when to:
    • Actively listen to gain a deep understanding of the other person’s perspective.
    • Speak (and write) constructively versus destructively.
    • Leverage our word choice, tone of voice and body language for maximum positive effect.
    • Apply containment techniques and tactics, e.g., shut down circular discussions, emotional rants, history rehashing, destructive-speak, taunting attempts, hearsay nonsense.
    • Refocus others so we’re collectively moving forward in a positive and well-paced direction.
    • Respectfully walk away when others are not able or unwilling to behave or respond rationally.
  • Authentically compassionate. When we see others as humans struggling to survive plus realize that some of our colleagues are simply ill-equipped to mentally and emotionally manage workplace turbulence, our primordial go in for the kill instincts diminish. As we shed our win at all costs mindset and instead, seek out opportunities to positively, collectively and integratively move forward, only then are we likely to attain mutually advantageous outcomes and ultimately restore calm.    
  • Higher purpose bound. When we consciously step away from life’s continuous distractions and instead, focus on attaining our higher purpose, we make space for silence, reflection, perspective, feelings acuteness, vulnerability, variety and improvisation. As we’re feeding our creativity, development and evolution, we’re no longer sweating the small stuff, which to be quite candid, accounts for the lion’s share of our workplace under fire entanglements.

Thought Provokers: Who isn’t under fire these days? Workplace stress has reached epidemic proportions. Workplace conflict it at an all-time high. The question…is your life important enough to you to re-examine your philosophies, mindsets and behaviors so you can become impervious to the new-norm-crazy?

Sources:

1 Stop Conflict at Work Now With the Power of Story, Forbes, 2016.
2 Workplace Stress: The Health Epidemic of the 21st Century, Huffington Post Business, 2016.

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