10 Psychologist-Approved Phrases You Can Use in Tense Work Situations

10 Psychologist-Approved Phrases You Can Use in Tense Work Situations

A little while back, we chatted about tense family interactions and how certain phrases can be used to side-step drama. Seeing as so many of you found this advice helpful, we thought we’d continue exploring uncomfortable conversations by taking a peek at tense work interactions and how you can effectively manage them.

To help with this, we chatted with Lysn psychologist Zac Chadwick, who shared a list of phrases you can apply in situations where things feel strained with work colleagues.

Chadwick explained that some signs you’re in a toxic work environment are when you notice examples of “microaggressions”, “overt bullying,” “people who create conflict or have little care for their actions and the impact on others, and lack of diversity and innovation both in people and in workplace values”.

10 phrases you can use to diffuse tension at work

With the above considered, Chadwick shared the below phrases you can use in various unpleasant work situations.

In a situation where someone at work has said or done something that you’re not comfortable with, Chadwick suggested trying to ask direct but respectful questions that may help confront icky issues.

  • “I was wondering what you meant by X [statement]?”
  • “That’s interesting you say that. Could we discuss what’s brought you to that?”
  • “I can’t say I noticed that. Would you be able to explain that to me more?”

Chadwick explained that “This is a gentle way to call out toxic chatter or behaviour without being too confrontational.”

“Understanding what people think and why they think that way provides a platform for more discussion and education. This can prevent defensiveness and arguments. Note: Keep in mind that “why” questions can cause defensiveness, so use these with caution,” he added.

In cases where actions need to be directly called out, Chadwich suggested using the below:

  • “I wanted to interject here and say that that’s not okay. It would be great to discuss this more, but in a way that is respectful to everyone”
  • “That [topic] is really important for lots of different people, and would be great to treat it as an important subject too”
  • “I just want to stop the conversation here for a moment and make sure we use [X statements]”
  • “Can we pause here for a moment and discuss [X] in more detail?”

Here, he explained that, in some cases, a more assertive approach is needed at work. In some circumstances, “it’s important to call this [poor behaviour] out to facilitate discussion.”

When using the above comments, Chadwick shared that:

“We are able to give people a chance to learn and increase their understanding [of the problem]. Remember that most people don’t usually want to be mean or derogatory, but they also might not know how to approach or talk about a subject,” he said.

Stepping things up a little, if there are times when tension needs to be diffused at work, Chadwick shared the following phrases could be used.

  • “Would I be right in saying you feel [XYZ] because [ABC] happened?”
  • “It feels like we are moving towards some heavy topics. Could we take a quick break/ would we be able to discuss how we can work through this?”
  • “I would be really interested in finding a solution to [X tension rising] could we book in a time to do this in private?”

Here, Chadwick shared that focusing on how people feel can help settle tricky interactions at work.

“Acknowledging tension and summarising how people are feeling are ways to help circumvent potential conflict and ease a conversation away from bickering. This can help change mindsets to be more solution focused or to create intentional space for conflict management,” he said.

So, next time you feel tension building in work relationships, give one of the above a try and see how it plays out. It may make hashing it all out that little bit simpler.

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