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North Central Business Journal News

RESPONDING TO NEGATIVE SITUATIONS
(June 2000 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

     Charlie, the operations manager, was retired from the Army.  He instituted military time into the company.  Sam, the owner, was irritated.  All his other managers complained because they had difficulty converting regular time into military time.  Sam stewed inside, and hinted to Charlie, with a laugh, that the people in the company just werenít ready for military time.  Sam hoped Charlie would revert to regular time.  Charlie didnít.  Sam stewed inside some more, and said to the complaining managers when they talked to him again that it was a quirk of Charlieís; they could put up with it.  After all, time was a pretty petty thing to get riled up about!  But Samís stress level escalated.  Eventually, after four or five other petty things, Sam exploded and fired Charlie.

     The above situation is all too common.  The typical way many people handle negative situations is to use humor and hints.  When that doesnít work, people hold it inside.  Or they talk to everyone else about the problem,  hoping that the offending person will discover that others are upset and change.  After a while, there is no more room left in which to stuff the irritations and the situation gets heated.  Things are said in ways that no one wanted them said, and the situation escalates into inappropriate actions that hurt the company.  Those who have learned to be direct, on the other hand, tend to do so in a confrontative, defense-inducing manner.  An arrogant voice and snide comments interfere with the other person hearing the complaint.  None of these tactics is effective in addressing negative situations.

     While there are people who delight in hurting their co-workers or superiors, most people are not like that.  It is wise to begin with the assumption that the offending person did not realize the actions or words were inappropriate.  Starting with this assumption encourages us to respond directly, without anger or irritation, allowing the other person to recognize the mistake and correct it.  Only when that tactic doesnít work is it time to change assumptions.

    Samís mistake was not talking to Charlie directly.  Sam didnít do that because Sam, in spite of being a successful business owner, doesnít really know how to handle negative situations effectively.  Very few people know how to handle negative situations effectively, which is why people resort to the ineffective tactics they have learned over the years.

    When we are upset by someoneís actions or words, it is useful to plan on paper how to respond.  This offers us the chance to think through how to phrase what we want to say, and then practice it.  Most people canít think this way initially because they havenít been trained to do it.  But if people practice being direct and rational, without allowing anger to creep in, they can eventually express it effectively to the offending person.

    Like all tactics, being non-offensively direct improves with practice.  The best way to get started is to (1) assume the other person did not intend to do something wrong, (2) think through how to respond, (3) write it out, (4) practice, and(5) implement. Each time, the tactic gets easier to use until it eventually becomes natural.  When that happens, negative situations melt immediately into constructive problem solving, and the company flourishes harmoniously.

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses.  Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.




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