Last week we posted about how using nonviolent communication in the workplace can help create a healthy work environment. One tip we offered was to ditch your judgments and focus on objectively observing the instant situation. In other words, be present for what really is.  But how do we do that? Before we give you the tip, it might be helpful to understand what’s happening that causes you to automatically react negatively to certain things…

A million times each day – 24/7 – our brains run all the stimuli we encounter through a 3-stage perception process:

  1. It selects, based primarily on our past, what to focus our attention on.
  2. It organizes what it selected – adding comas, exclamation marks, question marks, and even sequential timelines.
  3. It interprets the meaning of what it selected, to include how we feel about it and why it has occurred.

This 3-step process occurs in less than a nano-second for every person, place, thing, sight, smell, and sound we encounter – even in our dreams.

The interpretation phase is critical to our emotions and our reactions. This is when we assign meaning to everything! We determine our stories, which become our beliefs, about whatever has our attention.  As we interpret, we assign attributes- either internal or external – to everything. Internal attributes are based on character or ability; external attributes are more environmental, or “out of our control”.

Here’s an example: Someone in your office spends a lot of time talking with co-workers in the open, and it is distracting for you. If you assign internal attributes to that observation, you might believe that person is the office gossip, and doesn’t take her job seriously.  However, with an external attribute you might think “I wonder what kind of assignment she is working on that causes her to engage in so much discussion with our co-workers?”

You see the difference? They feel different too.  The internal attribute automatically assigns a character flaw, which is irritating and emotionally provoking, while the external attribute notices the objective behavior, but assumes a much more benign reason for it.

 Here’s your tip:

When you feel yourself getting irritated with a co-worker, notice which kind of attribute you have assigned to the behavior. If you decide to speak with her about the behavior, try approaching it from an external attribute mindset, which will help you feel more calm and clear.  For the situation above, rather than accuse her of being the office gossip and telling her how sick of it you are, try telling her you don’t know what kind of project she’s working on, but you’ve noticed you are having a hard time focusing due to the frequent floor conversations. Ask if she might be able to hold some of those discussions in a private place.

Making objective reference to a specific behavior, rather than assigning character traits to it, will help keep everyone calm, clear, and more productively focused. It is amazing how simply checking-in with our own mindsets, before reacting, contributes to and fosters a healthy working environment!

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