Specialized Issue-Focused Topics

Along with our more encompassing training programs, we also offer training that is narrowed down to certain specific issues we find to be common in many workplace settings, from non-profits, to educational institutions, from government agencies to corporations, and so on. The 12 topics below are presented within the framework of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication. Any of them may be brought in as subsets of the General Training Categories. Under management training, for example, the focus topic of “how to avoid being caught in the middle in other people’s conflicts” could be applied to two common issues faced by middle managers: dealing with conflicts between co-workers they supervise, or dealing with conflicts between higher-level managers and employees they supervise.

Also, if participants have already had an introductory PNDC course, they will have a foundation for moving right into an Issue-Focused Topic as a follow-up training. These topics can also be presented separately, with participants learning simply by working with how to respond to specific sample situations.

Finally, we can work with you on any Issue-Focused Topic you want to create and have us offer —either independently as a "stand alone" or in conjunction with other standard training programs. Multiple topics may be done sequentially. We can also offer coaching with regard to specific incidences related to the topics below.


Why Do We Give Negative People So Much Power?
Micro-Inequities — Small Insults Can Do Great Damage
Email — Cyberspace Route To Misunderstanding
Reclaiming Civility
Desk Rage — Workplace Abuse
Defensive Reactions by Employees Toward Management
Denial and Lies — A Wall of Resistance
Office Gossip — A Toxic Antidote to Unresolved Conflict
The Accountability Quotient
Apologies — The New Blame Game
Offensive Remarks in Group Settings
Caught in the Middle — Helping to Resolve Conflict or Fueling It?


Along with these Specialized Issue-Focused training programs, we offer: 8 Core Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skill-building and trainers' training workshops and 12 Primary Categories of training for professional and community organizations such as Leadership Development and Change Management. We also tailor training programs to specific professions. To see more about work we do with people in your profession, you can choose from Business & Corporate Education-K-12 Education-Community College Education-University Finance — Government Healthcare Law Collaborative Family Law Mediation Non-Profit Mental Health — Women's Organizations.


Why Do We Give Negative People So Much Power?

Too often the most negative person on a work team has the greatest amount of power. Without being sure about how to deal with the reactions of a negative person, whole groups can allow that person to throw the proverbial wet blanket on good ideas and constructive group process. Dealing quickly and effectively with “negative people” to diminish their effect on group morale and creativity can transform the group's ability to function.


Micro-Inequities — Small Insults Can Do Great Damage

The phrase "micro-inequities," coined by Dr. Mary Rowe, professor at MIT, refers to small, seemingly insignificant interactions where one person feels dismissed, ignored, interrupted, embarrassed, negated, or otherwise offended by another person. Data now demonstrates that such "small insults" are actually a major source of conflict and dissatisfaction for both employees and managers in workplace settings. People are more likely to quit a job over a repetitive series of such small incidents — such as being regularly interrupted by someone in a meeting — than over a single major issue. Dealing effectively with micro-inequities, using a constructive, conversational approach can greatly enhance employee satisfaction and retention.


Email — Cyberspace Route to Misunderstanding

Currently, most of us are more likely to get an answer if we send an email than if we call someone. Why? Because it's quick, easy and fast to send. And the value of speed is often eroded by the speed itself. A "quick" email may be phrased in a way that conveys irritation indirectly or through sarcasm, or it may create misunderstanding even when there is no underlying message at all. Sometimes the outcome is a fast and furious exchange of emails that fuel conflict. Learning efficient methods for creating clarity in emails, and for responding to perceived and/or real covert messages and overt criticism can add to the overall value of effeciency.


Reclaiming Civility

In many professional environments where people feel pressured by work demands, expectations for being polite or kind or even respectful have gone by the wayside. Yet, even in marriage, data demonstrates that couples who treat each other with geniune respect in small daily interactions are much less likely to separate or get divorced. The same principle can be applied in the workplace, creating an expectation of civility as part of the culture of any organization. While issues of civility are common to many environments, how they play out can vary widely in different environments — for example, in a corporate setting as compared to an academic environment.


Desk Rage — Workplace Abuse

Beyond the issue of civility, we see an increasing number of people who express inappropriate anger at others iin the workplace. While such anger has been dubbed "desk rage," it isn't just someone having a personal temper tantrum at her/his desk; it most often takes the form of angry verbal abuse. The person on the receiving end may be taken to task in a private office or humiliated in a meeting. Unfortunately, the situation often gets out of hand long before action is taken.

Letting such situations go on too long can happen for various reasons, including (a) employees being too uncomfortable to report a fellow employee, (b) employees being afraid to report because the offending person is a supervisor, and/or (c) management hesitates to take action because that employee or manager is someone who has skills valuable to the organization. Dealing effectively with"'desk rage" can make the office a safe place — and do so in a way that will increase the likelihood that you won't have to lose a good employee.


Defensive Reactions by Employees Toward Management

Most of us have heard stories about the person who had been good friends with other employees, sometimes for a decade or more, and then when that person was promoted into a management position, the friends dropped away and treated the person as if he/she no longer even cared what happened to them. This often happens because so many people have never dealt with their own issues about the authority or power their parents had/have over them.

While most employees can get defensive when receiving feedback about how to improve their performance, certain employees are often known to be particularly defensive with management. Having the skills to deal effectively with performance reviews and with employees who respond defensively to authority can make any manager's life easier and have wider impact as well. See also Management Training & Leadership Development


Denial and Lies — A Wall of Resistance

In some situations, employees and/or managers simply lie about behaving in certain ways even in the face of ample evidence — or deny that the behavior was inappropriate. Managers and HR personnel often have a hard time dealing with such flat-out denials and lies and end up trying to convince the person to own up, which usually fails and often leads to the employee or manager getting more defensive and accelerating their own accusations of being falsely blamed. In some cases, a group of people may engage in such behavior — for example, if they have a manager who has been too permissive. Learning how to respond without getting into power struggles with the person(s) and setting clear boundaries that hold the person(s) accountable can eliminate much frustration and may even, sometimes with surprising ease, prompt a change in the offending behavior and the person possibly even taking accountability.


Office Gossip — A Toxic Antidote to Unresolved Conflict

In organizations where authoritarian management rules, people who are afraid to speak up directly turn to gossip. Even in organizations that do encourage people to be respectful and civil, people often avoid direct conflict, and so are left with many unresolved issues with others. Then, people walk around like pressure cookers, needing to let off steam. The outlet: gossip. Gossip is a toxic antidote, like blasting people with hot steam.

While some people gossip because of personal judgments and, sadly, just to be cruel, it is important to recognize that gossip is very oftenis an antidote to a real problem — which is that any of us can irritate each other in a hundred ways and if we don't know how to deal with it constructively, we will have to let off steam somewhere if we don't want an ulcer. Solving the problem requires more than one step. One step is for employees and managers to know how to stop unwanted gossip without alienating others. Another step is to learn relatively simple methods for addressing issues directly with the offending person.


The Accountability Quotient

In traditional communication, people often argue over who is right and who is wrong. In the workplace, getting feedback or making a mistake too frequently is translated as being wrong, weak, and failing. So instead of seeing mistakes as part of a learning process, people often rampantly deny accountability and avidly pass the blame on to others. The degree to which employees and managers are willing to take full accountability will determine the degree of strength the organization has as a learning community. Learning how to encourage people to become more accountable can give new meaning to the phrase "knowledge is power."


Apologies — The New Blame Game

Currently, common forms of apology not only are not genuine, but actually pass blame back to the other person, in more or less covert ways. For example, people often say, "I'm sorry if you took it that way." Translated, "I'm sorry you misunderstood me." I'm using my apology to suggest that I did nothing wrong, you simply misunderstood me. Such apologies usually do more damage than good, because the person receiving the apology was initially offended and now blamed for the problem. People often say they are sorry just to "keep the peace."

Learning to distinguish when to give an apology, based on a person believing he/she has done something inappropriate, inconsiderate or hurtful is a first step. Learning how to give an apology in a way that takes accountability without justifying one's own behavior comes next — for many, a lost art that needs reclaiming. Giving real apologies when appropriate is a buiding block for office relationships.


Offensive Remarks Made in Group Settings

When someone makes an offensive remark in a group setting, it often has a kind of "startle impact" where everyone is the room is a bit stunned, like the deer in the headlights. Frequently, no one says anything and after a moment or two of that kind of dead silence, people go on as if it never happened. In such situations it is likely that one or more people in the room were the "target" of the remark. After people leave the group, perhaps from a meeting or the coffee room, some people may talk to each other about what happened, or even apologize to anyone who took the brunt of the comment. They say something like, "I'm sorry Mary made that comment; I thought it was offensive." Apologizing for what the other person did is often unhelpful. The person receiving the apology may wonder why the person giving the apology didn't speak up in the group and is just doing it privately.

The problem is that the incident happened in the group and probably impacted many people. Therefore, in a sense, it was group property. Learning how to respond to such comments within the context of group settings in ways that are simple and not accusatory can be invaluable to group process in any organization.


Caught in the Middle — Helping to Resolve Conflict or Fueling It?

Being caught in the middle of other people's conflicts can happen in many ways. A whole group in a meeting can be held captive to a conflict between two people. A co-worker can be the "listening ear" for two other co-workers in conflict with each other, a manager or HR person may have to manage complaints from co-workers who constantly rub each oher the wrong way or are making accusations about inappropriate behavior. A manager may also feel caught in the middle between upper management and people who report directly to her or him.

A common method of responding is to try to give support to each of the two people in conflict while trying to help them get along better. The problem is that people who feel caught in the middle often try so hard to support each person that they fuel the conflict without realizing it. Learning how to identify how the "mediating" person can unwittingly fuel the conflict is essential. Also, learning how to always have a position of your own while supporting conflict resolution between two other people can be a powerful tool in conflict resolution in the workplace.


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Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2016 Sharon Strand Ellison

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