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The Green Sheet Online Edition

January 21, 2009 • Issue 09:01:02


Catch and release office tension

Workplace environments are often fraught with tension. Back-stabbing, gossip and disrespect shown by one colleague toward another lead to needless anxiety and anger, which, in turn, exacerbate negative, unproductive behavior.

And with many businesses struggling to survive in today's economy, it is crucial for all of us to act responsibly to thwart any actions that undermine teamwork. While this isn't necessarily easy, it can be done. If you can understand why tension exists between you and a co-worker or co-workers, you can effectively eliminate it, or at least reduce it. One way to accomplish just that is to employ a visualization technique called catch and release. Catch For many amateur fishermen, the goal of fishing is simply to catch the biggest fish possible, not necessarily to kill it, dump it in a cooler and cook it later on. So anglers admire their prizes, show them to their buddies and maybe have pictures taken with them.

But then they return the wiggling trophies back to the water.

Now apply this idea to a workplace conflict. When a colleague makes a hurtful remark to you, seemingly out of the blue, don't escalate the situation by hurling an insult back.

Instead, catch that insult as you would a fish, and examine it. Ask yourself why the individual made the comment. You may be surprised at the number of possible reasons.

The most obvious answer is that you said something to make your co-worker angry. Maybe you didn't realize you offended the person when you made the remark.

But the fact is you did. If you can be honest with yourself and admit you hurt your peer's feelings, you can begin to understand why you received a nasty comment in return.


Now that you realize your initial comment sparked the reply, you can make up for it. It doesn't excuse the other's remark to you; it only shows that it wasn't, in fact, made out of the blue.

So take the initiative and repay your colleague with kindness, not anger. You don't necessarily have to apologize. Get the person a cup of designer coffee when you get one yourself; ask how he or she is doing; be polite.

What you have just done is taken that fish and tossed it harmlessly back in the water. You may be surprised how good you feel for not escalating the situation but, instead, diffusing it. The outcome is that there is less tension between you and your peer, which makes work more pleasant and enjoyable.

An ocean of fish

Human beings are complicated. Sometimes a fellow staff member's negative actions toward you may actually have nothing to do with you. The person may be stressed out from a private issue, such as a family member's illness, and lashed out at you instead of dealing with the trouble in a more appropriate way.

Or maybe the co-worker is having marital problems, and you have become the substitute for the spouse.

Once again, this is not to excuse any negative comments or behaviors. It is only to illustrate that the motivations for people's actions can be complex and deep-seated. By understanding this, you may recognize that countering hurtful actions with hurtful actions of your own does no one any good.

So when you release that complicated fish back to the water, it is once again a release of tension. If you are not the original cause of a colleague's hurtful behavior toward you, you at least have a clear conscience that you didn't cause the person to snap.

This understanding can be very empowering. With understanding comes compassion. And compassion breeds more compassion, not less.

Unhook from pain

Of course, the most serious causes of office tension - sexual harassment, stalking and so forth - cannot be eliminated by visualization; victims need to report this behavior to their superiors immediately.

But the technique of catch and release can help in less severe circumstances. Perhaps you suspect your peers are talking about you in a derogatory fashion behind your back. How can catch and release alleviate that?

If you're a top performer in your company, it is likely inferior merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are jealous of you. You may realize colleagues' bad mouthing originates from their insecurity at your success. Understanding that should eliminate bitterness and anger you may feel toward them.

Instead, recognize that maybe the less talented MLSs in your organization need your guidance and experience. The more generous you are toward them, the less they will see you as a threat, and the smoother your office may function.

So, after you take out that hook and toss the fish back in the water, open yourself to helping them be better reps, and better people. And while you're at it, teach them to catch and release, too. end of article

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