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  • Sophie Clifford Eva Edel

The three things you need to do to avoid tense workplaces

“They’re getting so hard to work with”. To avoid getting to difficult working relationships you need to build a true listening culture. Here is how.

Tensions in the workplace become problematic when they escalate into difficult working relationships. This often happens when stress cumulates and resentment builds up - not uncommon in these covid-19 times.

To avoid difficult working relationships caused by a build up of stress and resentment, people should have a space to empty their emotional bags - their frustrations, emotions, fears, anger - without fearing “consequences”.

The data is clear on the benefits of getting employee relations right and the cost of getting it wrong. The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) estimates that conflict in the workplace costs UK business £33 billion per year, taking up 20% of leadership time and potentially losing up to 370 million working days.

To create an environment where this can happen and be positive, you need to do 3 things.


This means everyone must know about it and it is lived by all, especially those at the top.


Active listening is a skill you learn. It means you listen to understand the person, not to respond. You don’t respond with your own problems or solutions, you don’t advise or judge. You acknowledge and feedback. Done well, it provides enormous benefits: relief and connection amongst them. But it’s much harder than it sounds and requires a concerted training effort and lots of practice.


Who people choose to talk to and when will be up to them. You can’t force a horse to drink but you can lead it to water. Encourage people to talk, be ready to listen, don’t ever be dismissive, be attentive and notice if a colleague is carrying a heavy emotional bag and it would do them good to share (if not with you, maybe with someone else). If you are in a position of power, remember it often does not take much for someone to clam up so be extra receptive.

Listening is a key step. There is of course more you can do, in addition to listening, to deal effectively with tensions at work. Here are our 5 keys steps for dealing with someone who is tricky to handle and our top tips for when you behaved poorly towards someone.

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