Taking the Time To Call People In


2020 has been a year of challenges and changes. Every organization has faced new obstacles and has scrambled to adjust operations to respond to a global pandemic. Amidst all the pandemic chaos, we’ve also seen big social shifts that reverberate at work.

These stressors and changes can cause additional challenges dealing with interpersonal issues in the workplace. Feelings of overwhelm and disconnect make it easy to react rather than to respond. Add in the challenges of engaging in productive conversations remotely and it’s not surprising that tensions might be running high.

It can be difficult to address interpersonal or behavioural concerns proactively and productively when we’re all feeling maxed out. But there’s a strong case to be made for showing compassion over criticism when tension comes up. What if, instead of criticizing, shaming, talking behind closed doors, or “calling out” our colleagues’ behaviour, performance, or attitude in the workplace when it rubs us the wrong way, we opted for empathy, openness, and a willingness to engage in a “called in” a conversation?

So how do we start “calling in” at work?

Model what you want to see

A key indicator of an organization’s culture is how well conflict is handled. And when it comes to managing conflict, part of every leaders’ job description is “teacher” and “coach”. When tension comes up, there is also a learning opportunity, and a chance to demonstrate your culture in action and model the behaviour you want to see in your teams.

Address it in the moment

Often, workplace issues linger or escalate because they aren’t addressed directly when they arise. We don’t know how to initiate conversations that make us uncomfortable, so we avoid them. By ignoring issues, we foster and perpetuate work cultures that defer to harassment complaints over respectful conversation, and we forget how to interact with each other person-to-person, as fallible humans who are still all learning. Addressing concerns in a direct, timely, and compassionate way keeps small annoyances from becoming bigger than they actually are.

Get emotions in check and press “pause” if needed

Before constructive discussion can happen, emotions need to be in check. If you can’t manage an emotional swell, and you’re feeling irritated, frustrated, or just don’t have the capacity to address an issue head on, press “pause”. It’s fine to reflect and revisit the issue once your own reaction has subsided, as long as that doesn’t mean letting it fester indefinitely.

Stay curious about each party’s “why”

In every conflict, each party comes to the table with diverse sets of experiences, backgrounds, and histories that shaped their values, beliefs, and behaviours. Getting curious about the other person’s “why” can be the doorway into a constructive, positive conversation. You might not share their opinion, but you can share a mutual respect and a commitment to working together successfully.

In the words of the wise Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better”. This year has been challenging for everyone. As 2021 approaches, when tensions come up at work, we have a chance to give each other the benefit of the doubt by calling in instead of calling out.

Your Engaged Assignment: Keep an open mind, stay curious, and take the time to know better, so that you can do better. As always, we are here to help through any of those challenges and provide online workshops that help you do better.