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High Tension Encounters

High Tension Encounters (HTEs) happen regularly in any workplace  offices, schools, hospitals, councils, work-sites, factories… 

The negative impact of poorly-handled HTEs on colleagues, customers, patients and work-teams is well-attested. Whether it’s toxic personalities, inveterate arguers, belligerent bosses or conflict-ridden contrarians, HTE’s distract from productive work focus, detract from good results, debilitate teams, distress and unsettle us, and create caustic cultures in the long term…

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  • The frequency of HTEs has been measured in several settings. For example, one study found 85% of us experienced chronic conflict in our work-lives, with 30% saying it was always or highly frequent. 
  • In schools, principals on average say they have five difficult encounters a day, while another study of operating theatres reported at least 1 and up to 4 HTEs among surgical teams per operation. 
  • Another study reported 64% said they were dealing with a toxic personality in their current work environment and 94% said they’d worked with someone toxic at some time. 
  • Other studies reveal that school principals are abused on a regular basis by parents and 91% of nurses reported verbal abuse from physicians or patients, with 10% saying they witnessed disruptive physician behaviour daily. 
  • The ongoing impact of these HTEs exact a significant emotional toll, with one study suggesting negative encounters affected people five times more strongly than positive ones.

The customary line is that conflict is beneficial – it clarifies, corrects, changes and leads to better solutions and decisions.

Yet another line of thought suggests something quite different: that it has prolonged negative consequences that undermine relationships, trust and collaboration as well as distracting from task-focus and wasting resources in prolonged conflict mediation processes that largely don’t work.… 

So, whether or not it is sporadically constructive, in many instances conflict it seems is damaging, harmful and linked to high stress and staff turnover. 

Building conversational capability to better deal with difficult HTEs may not reduce their frequency but it can help us to handle them better, have more constructive confrontations and mitigate some of the negative consequences that follow on the heels of unregulated conflict.

© Bill Cropper – The Change Forum 2023

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