Tension in the Workplace? Here’s What You Can Do

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Don’t let work conflicts get you down. Researchers say you have the power to resolve conflicts and heal relationships at work.

How? Empathy.

Recent studies by Gabrielle Adams and M. Ena Inesi of the London Business School, which will soon be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveal that using a little empathy – that is, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — is a powerful antidote to workplace conflict.

In an interview with The New York Times, Adams says their research shows that in workplace conflict, it’s common for there to be misunderstandings between the perceived victim and the offender — the person (or persons) committing the harm or wrongdoing.

For example, people who believe they were wronged may be quick to assume that the misdeed was intentional. That’s not always the case. The Times explains:

“In many cases, the transgressors did not intend a negative effect, whereas the victims tended to think that the damage was intentional. In addition, transgressors frequently felt guilty and wanted to be forgiven much more than their victims realized.”

Adams says using empathy can reduce people’s misunderstandings or “miscalibrations” of others’ intent.

“We ask victims to think about what it would be like to be the transgressor, and you reduce that miscalibration,” Adams tells the Times.

She recommends that managers and employers use — and encourage workers to use — empathy to resolve conflicts.

Of course, empathy isn’t always going to lead to workplace harmony. For example, if the offender doesn’t think that what he or she did was wrong and the “victim” offers forgiveness, it could backfire because the offender may view it as “self-righteous,” says the Times.

“Before you can even offer forgiveness, there needs to be some kind of mutual understanding of the transgression,” Adams warns.

How do you deal with workplace conflict? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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