4 Ways to Approach Workplace Tension

by | Jul 13, 2015

We all experience tension at work in various forms and for a variety of reasons. But what would you say is one of the biggest causes of workplace tension?

People are certainly up there, don’t you think?

Yup –  difficult bosses, team members, customers, vendors and so on are a major cause of workplace tension (oh, and you’re one of those for them, by the way). This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but can you relate?

We’re human. We have different personalities, perspectives, priorities, desires – and triggers. So all of us disappoint, miscommunicate, misunderstand and offend – usually without intention to cause someone else stress, but it happens nonetheless. Those differences cause tension at work.

I’ve been there. I worked for a man at a previous company who was very direct, had high expectations, and communicated in a very bottom-line approach. He and I frequently had tense conversations whenever we were dealing with pressing deadlines or complex projects – which happened frequently due to the nature of our work. Our tense moments might sound like this: He questioned my approach; I felt a need to defend myself; he got irritated; I got upset. We eventually found a solution, but not without frustration on both sides.

Thankfully, our company culture valued relationships. We’d meet about once a month with no formal agenda except to share how things were going and what we needed. At one of these meetings, we had a very straight-forward conversation to address the tension we both experienced. We discovered that there were some simple things we could both do to avoid those tense experiences.

  • Assume good intent. I needed to assume he was contributing to my success, not attacking my approach. My boss needed to assume that I was doing my best for the project and that I was willing to adjust as needed. Going in with a positive assumption will help you start out on a positive note.
  • Don’t take it personally. None of us are perfect – we all have room to grow. Even when you think you did a perfect job, there may be other solutions that achieve different results. I needed to let go of the idea that I constantly had to prove myself. Opportunities for growth do not mean “you’re not cutting it.”
  • Pray and give it to God. When I pause and pray before reacting to what I perceive as a negative communication, the results are amazing! I ask God to work in my heart and the heart of the other person, and reveal His will. I’ve seen times when the other person’s thinking aligns with mine, and other times when I gain a new perspective. Ultimately, the results are always positive.
  • Focus on the greater good. It’s not about me (or you). Even if I need to do something differently, it doesn’t mean something’s wrong. My job (and yours) is simply to do my work with excellence for the highest good of all involved. How I feel is not the issue, but rather that I respond with humility and a desire to serve.

I practice these four principles daily (there are times I have to push myself). It helps me to stay centered more consistently so I’m more effective no matter who I’m working with or how demanding the project.

We also recommend:

How to Flourish in Difficult Circumstances

Changing Your Thoughts at Work


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Catherine Gates

Catherine Gates is Executive Director of Women in the Marketplace, a nonprofit marketplace ministry that equips working women to confidently pursue their faith and career for the glory of God. She is also the author of The Confidence Cornerstone: A Woman’s Guide to Fearless Leadership. Learn more at womeninmarketplace.net.