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Promoting harmony when personalities clash

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Every leader wants to run a harmonious workplace. But when personalities clash and tensions erupt, collaboration tends to fall by the wayside.

Pat Christen, CEO of HopeLab, sought ways to preserve harmony even as she had to discipline underperformers and urge groups to work together more effectively. HopeLab, a nonprofit based in Redwood City, Calif., develops technologies and products to improve health.

Huddling with senior executives, Christen realized that her teams would function better if everyone spoke up about their aspirations and concerns. Avoiding uncomfortable conversations or steering clear of conflict at all costs was actually harming HopeLab’s teams rather than bringing them closer.

The organization now offers training sessions to help raise employees’ self-awareness and sharpen their communication skills. Participants learn how to handle sensitive conversations while preserving a sense of harmony and mutual respect.

When conflicts arise, employees discuss the situation honestly with each other. They don’t point fingers; instead, they apply tools to resolve tension so that they come away eager to work together for the greater good.

Rosa Lopez, a HopeLab employee, cites an example of what she learned in the workshop. When dealing with team members who make her angry, she no longer reacts impulsively and lashes out. She prefers to pause and ask herself, “What triggered this? What happened? Why am I reacting this way?”

Such resiliency enables colleagues to listen to each other with empathy rather than imposing their will. They’re more apt to collaborate if they trust each other to remain calm and cool amid high-stakes debates.

— Adapted from The Optimistic Workplace, Shawn Murphy, AMACOM.

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