Critical Ideas for the Psychologically Healthy Workplace

A. Richey

In this webinar on Conflict, Emotion, Incidents, & Behaviour, Pierre Nadeau, Respectful Workplace Specialist at Proactive ReSolutions, explores the key ideas to help you to deal with problematic situations in the workplace.

Humans treat each other the way they’re treated. They’re dragged into bad behaviour when not treated with the respect they deserve – it's an escalating cycle of reactive behaviours.

Psychologically healthy workplaces are places where people can share a common language or a common approach on how to deal with workplace conflict. To explore this further, it is necessary to define the difference between a dispute and a conflict.

  • Dispute: A contest on how to answer a question. Disputes are quite healthy. To resolve a dispute, find out what the question is and find a way to resolve the question. This might include conflict based negotiations, collaborative problem-solving groups, or mediation. 
  • Conflict: Negative emotions associated with a relationship. Solutions might include reorganising the organisation to keep the people away from each other, coaching or counselling individuals, or proactive conferencing based on restorative justice. Under this system people are asked  about how they have been affected, then the people are brought together, the past is acknowledged and ways of moving forward are identified. This may result in a written agreement. The aim is to transform conflict in something more positive.

“Conflict is basically about negative emotions. Emotions are intra personal processes which are rooted in our physiology,” he said. 

If conflict is about negative emotions, and emotions are within us, then they're bound to come out of us eventually. 

Bodies go into fight or flight mode when faced with conflict. The results might be increased heartbeat, increased blood pressure, adrenaline or micro-facial expressions. 

The aim is to resist the urge to respond in kind.  But suppressing the negative emotions takes its toll. It is important to have ways to deal with the situation, otherwise, negative emotions impact the individual, and in turn can impact those around them. 

As a result there may be more volitional behaviours, and the cycle continues. If each individual is personally accountability for their behaviour, rather than focused on the behaviour of others, a psychologically respectful workplace is more likely.

There are different points of intervention depending on the stage of the conflict. The best action which can be taken is to support people responding to strong emotions with constructive behaviour - responding with the head rather than the heart.

Humans have a tendency to judge, and then use those judgements in their approach to resolving situations. eg “I want to talk you about your bad attitude.”

The conversation is more likely to be useful if approached constructively.  eg “We need to have a chat about what happened at the meeting this morning.” It could then be discussed in terms of behaviour identifiers. 

Asking questions and finding out what was bothering the person. Acknowledging what they say and asking for behaviour change. The meeting could then end with mutual agreement.

Describe the behaviour rather than the label. i.e. instead of conflict, there could be a description of the behaviour such as they turned their back and walked away.

Why do people behave the way they do? Many excuses are provided. The cause of our behaviour is generally because people have decided to behave that way. These decisions may not be conscious or rational.

In road rage for example, most people would not have behaved the same way if there was policeman on the corner or if there was a six-year-old in the seat beside them. 

The job of managers to help people is to support and productive workplace. 

An important component of this is to ensure the workplace is conducive to good working relationships. 

Leading by doing helps.  But managers can also act as a limiter to negative behaviour by being that obvious person who influences the behaviour of team members.  

Nothing happens in vacuum. Everything is context driven. There may be issues within the group which are driving the behaviour. The more we know about our people as managers, the more capable we are of helping them with their lives. Work to support good decisions by changing the behaviour context.

Workers and managers seek respect and dignity.  Incivility and nonchalance are destructive. 

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Bullying and harassment are much less likely to occur in a civil and cooperative working environment.  

Pierre Nadeau’s webinar can be found here.

Published 14 September, 2015 | Updated 15 September, 2015