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Take Five! – How Adults Can Benefit from a Time Out

 

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A time-out according to Wikipedia, “Is a form of behavioral modification that involves temporarily separating a person from an environment where unacceptable behavior has occurred.” It is a disciplining technique we associate with children. The logic behind the time-out method is that if you remove the child from a fun surrounding when they do something wrong, then it will eliminate that behavior.

Although this is a popular discipline method with children, it is also one that adults can and should use as well. I am not ashamed to admit that my husband Bernard has successfully used this technique on me, whether he is aware of it or not.

Before I explain how he did this, I must first clarify why it was necessary. My preset response when in conflict is to fight. By this I mean, I won’t listen, I get defensive, I make demands, I speak in absolutes, and lastly, the worst, in my opinion, I yell. Many times when my emotions are running high, I don’t even realize my voice has gone up two octaves. Although I have made numerous changes in how I engage in conflict, I feel I will always be a work in progress. It is not simple to make modifications to our behavior without mindfulness, perseverance, and I believe the help of others. Which brings me back to my husband, Bernard and how he assisted in correcting my conflict behavior.

We got into a heated conflict some months back. I was yelling, and Bernard asked me to stop. I responded how I always did when he said this to me, “I am not yelling.” Finally, Bernard had reached his tolerance limit and told me that we were having a verbal time-out for five minutes. I began to protest, but he held up his hand implying he would not be continuing unless I stop speaking for five minutes. So I sat in silence, at first I was annoyed by this pause.

It felt like a break and taking a break from conflict always felt counter-intuitive to me. While I know it can be helpful for you to calm down and be more productive when you come back to it, I still felt like it thwarted the momentum of the discussion. Usually, one person initiates the break, and it is that person who seems to hold power as to when the conversation recommences. Being as I am impatient I never liked conflicts to linger, and I found when breaks were initiated it prolonged a resolution.

As I continued to sit in silence, I noticed that I had calm down. When Bernard spoke after the five minutes, he said, ” Okay, I am willing to listen to you if you speak calmly, if you start yelling I’m initiating another time-out.” I felt irritated that he spoke to me like a kid, but in hindsight, my yelling did mirror a temper-tantrum thrown by a child. Now months later, I can acknowledge that his insistence on a five-minute time-out when I would start yelling (this occurred several more times) is what led to the minimizing of that behavior. I now will catch and correct myself before he even has an opportunity to say something.

If you are like me, you are not a fan of time-outs when in a fight. A break meaning you leave the room or house, go for a drive or a walk, or do something else for a while and then come back to the conversation after some time has passed. Try taking a five-minute time-out instead. It removes the fear that the conflict will go unaddressed or that you won’t revisit it later. While also giving you a moment to calm yourself down.

Just like with children, a time-out can be beneficial for addressing and even eliminating poor behavior and assist you in becoming a better you in conflict.

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

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Hot Irritations: Strategies to Reduce Conflict Temperament

tired-hikers-249683_1280Have you noticed that you’ve been getting into more arguments lately? Or that every little thing seems to set you off? Not sure why your fuse is so short? Look no further than the outdoor thermometer!

I took notice of my more irritable state as of late. I don’t mind sweating if I’m working out or gardening, something that warrants breaking a sweat. However, I am not a fan of just sitting around and doing nothing and sweating. I am a big fan of controlled air, and I found when I sweat I feel overheated and testy.

I also became aware of the fact that the heat makes me tired which could be a side effect of not being well hydrated. I have determined that a combination of lack of hydration, sleepiness, and sweating puts me into rare form.  I became more conscious of this when I began picking fights for no reason and becoming more annoyed with my husband. I also noticed I have less patience with our puppy Alvin.

According to an article by Rachael Rettner, a senior writer for livescience.com, ” hot and especially humid weather is known to be associated with increases in aggression and violence as well as general mood.” The article goes on to explain that the limitations put on our daily activities due to the sweltering heat can cause us to be angry. Another interesting piece from the article, Rettner writes, “a lack of control over the situation may further irritate some people.”

Just another way my control issues can get the best of me! So what are we to do in these situations? Summer is the best time to soak up that vitamin D and be outside – we can’t be expected to hole up in our controlled climate houses fanning ourselves right?

* Be aware – the most important thing is that you are mindful of the fact that the heat could be affecting your mood. Be aware of what is triggering your annoyance. It is also important to remember the weather could be changing other people’s attitudes as well. So if someone seems to be biting your head off the heat could be a contributing factor.

* Take deep breaths- If you are feeling angry take some deep breaths to help focus your mind. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds and release. Just taking those few moments to refocus can help you be more aware of the conflict at hand.

* Take shade and hydrate – I am not asking that you sit inside all day, but it is important to take a break from the sun now and then to help regulate your system. Also, it is imperative that you stay hydrated especially if you are sweating, this will fend off tiredness and keep your system fresh.

* Use sunblock – I am a fair person, so I burn easily, and I know that when I get a sunburn, I am not a fun person to be around. So, keep yourself slathered in sunblock and fend off the painful burning experience.

It is important to remember to cool down before engaging in a summer battle both figuratively and literally. These may seem like common sense suggestions, but I rarely think of the weather as being a factor in a fight. Keep the weather in mind and be aware of your triggers. You will be sure to have a great summer experience!

 

Have a great week,

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

 

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When Good and Poor Work Ethics Collide- Addressing the Ethic’s Dilemma

Lazy-Coworker-BlogI have a memory from about ten years ago of a snowstorm that hit Maryland. The snow touched most of the state and especially the northern part of Maryland where it hit hardest. I lived in this part of the state with my family. At the end of our long, gravel driveway where snow accumulated it would take my Dad and neighbor several hours to dig us out. During this particular snow, my Dad, who leaves for work at 4:00 in the morning, was unable to drive his truck up the driveway. So what did my Dad do? He called and asked a co-worker to come pick him up and take him to work. I watched from my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning as my Dad walked through the snow, up to the main road to catch a ride. I can recall thinking, why doesn’t he just call out? But, that’s not my Dad. I have always been impressed by his work ethic, a trait he has subtly instilled in me over the course of my life.

Since the start of the workplace series, I have been reflecting on my work experience over the past ten years, beginning with when I filled out my first W-2 at the age of fifteen. I determined that one of my biggest pet peeves in every experience I have had was when a co-worker lacked a strong work ethic.

What is a strong work ethic?

Amelia Jenkins a contributor on Chron.com identifies five factors that exhibit a strong work ethic, “Integrity”, “Sense of Responsibility”, “Emphasis on Quality”, “Discipline”, and “Sense of Teamwork”. Our work ethic is about personal values and what we believe to be most important. Most of these factors are self-explanatory, but “emphasis on quality” Amelia Jenkins mentions is a worker’s ability to provide quality work rather than just delivering the bare minimum.

When a colleague demonstrates a poor work ethic such as consistently showing up late, not meeting deadlines, or slacking off on work, other employees may become annoyed, angry, and resentful. Why is this? Because our definition and values are different. When our work ethic values clash, then these feelings arise. For me, the thing that bothers me the most is when a co-worker consistently makes excuses for why they have been unable to complete their work, rather than admitting they do not know how to do it or that they were procrastinating.

So how can one co-worker address another who is exhibiting a poor work ethic?

When co-workers show a poor work ethic, I have approached them and asked what they are finding most difficult. If they say they are struggling with a problem I have dealt with before, I show him or her how to work through it; however, if it is a problem I have never had before, I find someone else who can assist them.

Ashley Miller from globalpost.com suggests, “No one wants to come across as a goody two-shoes, but there’s usually no harm in addressing your concerns directly with your co-worker in a polite, professional manner. “ A fellow employee may be more willing to change their behavior and less likely to hold a grudge if you, for example, say, “Hey Nancy, I noticed you have been getting to work late recently, I wanted to check in with you to make sure everything is okay?” When you acknowledge the poor behavior in a non-confrontational way, your co-worker will be aware that s/he’s conduct is being noted and may be more likely to get to work on time. If something is occurring to prevent the employee from getting to work on time, then the issue can be brought up and addressed. However, it is imperative that the discussion be done in private that way your co-worker is more likely to be receptive.

Frances Burks from Chron.com advises, “Find out if your coworker understands how to complete his assigned tasks when you discuss work-ethic problems with him.” If a co-worker is struggling to meet deadlines, it may be wrong to assume that s/he are lazy or do not care. Instead, verify that they understand what is being asked of them. If the problem is they do not have the skill level to complete their assigned tasks, suggest they talk with a manager to obtain the necessary training needed. Do not take on the tasks yourself, by doing that you, as the employee will only grow more resentful.

Finally, Ashley Miller recommends, “Talking to your supervisor in a [concerned and kind] manner provides him with the opportunity to address your concerns and shows that you are dedicated to the success of your workplace.” A discussion with your supervisor should be a last resort after you have spoken with your co-worker regarding her/his behavior and nothing has changed. If the issue requires you to approach your boss, you might start the conversation with ‘I have a concern I need to address with you regarding my co-worker’.

For me, when I feel riled about my work ethic clashing with someone’s lack of work ethic, I now make a point of speaking with my co-workers rather than jumping to conclusions about what is causing their work ethic to lack. I have found that by talking with my coworkers directly in a calm and collected fashion, that most issues get resolved. Now anytime I receive praise for my strong work ethic, I always think of my Dad and how he showed me what it means to be a hard worker.

Abigail Clark,

M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Intern

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The Blockage Between Upper Management and Employees: Poor Communication and How to Improve It

communication.jpegI have had the experience of working in several organizations that despite having competent employees, financial means, and a solid customer base have failed to achieve their goals ultimately. These organizations are riddled with disorganization, frustration, and an overall negative atmosphere. Why might these previous employers of mine be experiencing these issues? A lack of communication between the Upper Management and its employees is a major cause. When those in leadership roles do not converse with their employees, those in lower paid positions feel frustrated, angry, and helpless leading to low workplace morale.

Mike Myatt a contributor to Forbes and leadership advisor points out, “If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation.” I learned in my conflict management classes that the moment people stop communicating with one another the chance of resolution diminishes. However, if what is being communicated is omitting wrong or untrue information, conflicts will also rarely reach resolution.

Chris Joseph writer for Chron.com outlines four ways poor communication can cause conflict in the workplace.

  1. It can “[create] uncertainty.”
  2. It can cause issues when employees have to “[share] resources.”
  3. It can generate “poor teamwork.”
  4. It can spread “rumors and gossip.”

If communication issues such as these four examples continue to cause conflict and are not addressed, the overall business could be impaired. So why does poor communication continue to occur?

Miranda Brookins marketing professional and writer for Chron.com suggests six reasons, “Lack of leadership, unclear goals and duties, undertrained employees, limited feedback, employees disengaged, and virtual teams.” In previous organizations of which I have worked, one or more of these reasons have been the cause of poor communication.

How can companies improve communication in the workplace?

Inc. Staff from Inc.com suggests that an organization, “Create a culture. Above all else, to the extent possible, strive to be transparent and straightforward about the challenges of your business and even about your company’s financials. Such candor fosters trust and understanding”. A contention I had with one of the companies for which I worked is when upper management came and spoke to us, the employees. They informed us that there were not going to be any layoffs, and then, a week later, laid off fifty people. From that point on, I did not trust anything upper management said to us. I could understand upper management not wanting to cause panic among its staff; however if they had been upfront about layoffs they would have maintained the respect and trust of their employees.

Tim Eisenhauer co-founder of Axero, “Checking in with how your employees are doing is an essential aspect of running a business that should never be overlooked.” He goes on to explain, “Open forums such as [a town hall meeting], not only serve to improve internal communication, but can also help to empower your employees.” I once worked for a company where one of the bosses, took the time to walk around and speak to us employees, He simply walked around and asked, “How is your day going?” I remember feeling like he truly cared about my well-being, which made me feel appreciated. In other organizations where the upper management did not take the time to converse with me or they talked down to me, I often felt less inclined to work hard for them.

Another suggestion by Tim Eisenhauer is instead of one-sided communication, “allow for communication to be a two-way street, as you’ll see a number of benefits by taking this approach.” In one company of which I worked, the upper management often told us what their plans were instead of consulting us for ideas or allowing an open door policy to air our grievances. Therefore, we only knew what was going on after plans have been set in motion. Employees may have useful knowledge that could contribute and push the company forward. By not accessing this human capital resource an organization is limiting their success.

For an organization to be successful they must communicate. When people understand what is expected of them and they feel appreciated, they tend to work together more efficiently with less stress and frustration. This only benefits the employees and the company. If I had an opportunity to speak with upper management with my previous employers, I would suggest communicating openly and honestly with their employees. In doing so, employees will feel valued, trust their employer, and ultimately have the desire to perform to the best of their abilities.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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