This Is Not Career I Ordered- Cutting drama and tackling communication breakdowns at work

Written by Caroline Dowd-Higgins. Posted in Featured

Published on May 02, 2018 with No Comments

Regardless of your ideological views or political persuasion, these are turbulent times around the world. I’ve noticed a sense of angst, heightened anxiety, and a palpable change in how people treat each other personally and professionally.

It’s time to get back to what distinguishes us as human beings – treating one another with compassion, dignity, and respect. Even those with whom we disagree the most deserve to be treated with care.

As a career development and leadership coach. I’ve seen communication breakdowns lead to dysfunctional work environments that breed toxicity and extinguish morale. Righting the communication ship is not impossible. In fact, getting back to basics will help make communication at work, and in your personal life more effective and satisfying.

Empathy is recognizing emotions in others and being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It helps you understand the other person’s perspective and reality.  You need not agree with the other person, but being empathetic requires you to think beyond yourself and your own concerns and allows you to discover another point of view.

To use empathy more effectively, consider these action steps from www.MindTools.com:

Put aside your viewpoint and try and see things from another person’s point of view.

Validate the other person’s perspective.

Examine your attitude. Are you open to discover new things?


Ask what the other person would do. Encourage them to explain their position.

Leadership from the Corefounder and principal Marcel Schwantes believes the secret to communicating well is to be emotionally present. This begins with listening intently. Active listening is a skill you can hone.

Perhaps you’ve experienced a scenario in which someone talked over you while you desperately tried to convey your message but never felt as if you were heard.

Being silent is tough for many but this is an essential behavior when listening. Being an active listener allows you to hear with your eyes and ears. Open and receptive body language is important to fully absorb what the other person is saying and honor their air time.

Resist the urge to jump in with a solution or a contribution. Allow the speaker to finish. Know that moments of silence allow for comprehension and processing.

When the speaker is finished, ask clarifying questions to ensure that you have understood them correctly. Paraphrase salient bits of the content using language like: “What I heard you say is…” and give the presenter the space to illuminate, if needed.

Bad things happen when good people say nothing. If you witness inappropriate behavior, consider how you can intervene to mitigate the situation. Being an advocate for othersis a key part of trusting relationships and impactful communication.

Be a true leader and model the way for positive and supportive interactions. It takes courage and bravery to speak up when something inappropriate happens. These acts of courage will soon permeate to create a culture of advocacy with positive benefits.

As the iconic bumper sticker says, Mean People Suck. Differences in style, opinion, and ideological viewpoint will always happen. Research has shown that diverse perspectives on a team lead to more creative solutions and productivity.

When we lose civility with those with whom we disagree, we miss the entire point of diverse perspectives. Better Angelsis a non-profit national citizen’s movement created to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing together opposing viewpoints to understand each other and teach practical skills for communicating across political differences.

Disagreement is healthy, but waging war at work when colleagues disagree is debilitating and toxic.

I see professionals spiral in communication meltdowns when they focus on a singular either/or scenario. Most workplace conflict can be solved with compromise or an alternative solution that is not yet on the table.

Instead of heading into a negotiation in attack mode, consider these communication prompts to diffuse the emotion and focus on jointly created solutions:

How can I help?

Can we come together to find a solution?

Let’s meet half way…

We know intellectually that it’s OK to disagree with someone and that diverse viewpoints lead to strong teams and productive organizations. Emotions get high when we don’t feel validated when trying to share our point of view.

Take a moment and breathe before you speak and use the intentional pause to honor others by being an active listener.

Your willingness to own your mistakes, apologize and be grateful are the foundation of strong communication. We can work out our differences and we must tap our better angels to do so with compassion, dignity and respect – even when it’s difficult.

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About Caroline Dowd-Higgins


All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to AOL Jobs, CNN Money, the British online magazine – The Rouse and More Magazine online. She is hosting and producing an online webisode series called: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women. She hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

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