Solutions to Cut the Drama and Tackle Communication Breakdowns at Work We can work out our differences, and we must tap our better angels to do so with compassion, dignity and respect -- even when it's difficult.

By Ellevate

This story originally appeared on Ellevate


Regardless of your ideological views or political persuasion, these are turbulent times around the world. I've noticed a sense of angst, heightened anxiety and a palpable change in how people treat each other personally and professionally.

Related: 5 Keys to Making True Connections

It's time to get back to what distinguishes us as human beings -- treating one another with compassion, dignity and respect. Even those with whom we disagree the most deserve to be treated with care.

As a career development and leadership coach, I've seen communication breakdowns lead to dysfunctional work environments that breed toxicity and extinguish morale. Righting the communication ship is not impossible. In fact, getting back to basics will help make communication at work, and in your personal life more effective and satisfying.

Empathy defined

Empathy is recognizing emotions in others and being able to put yourself in another person's shoes. It helps you understand the other person's perspective and reality. You need not agree with the other person, but being empathetic requires you to think beyond yourself and your own concerns and allows you to discover another point of view.

To use empathy more effectively, consider these action steps from

  • Put aside your viewpoint and try and see things from another person's point of view.
  • Validate the other person's perspective.
  • Examine your attitude. Are you open to discover new things?
  • Listen.
  • Ask what the other person would do. Encourage them to explain their position.

Listen intently

Leadership from the Core founder and principal Marcel Schwantes believes the secret to communicating well is to be emotionally present. This begins with listening intently. Active listening is a skill you can hone.

Perhaps you've experienced a scenario when someone talked over you while you desperately tried to convey your message but never felt as if you were heard.

Being silent is tough for many but this is an essential behavior when listening. Being an active listener allows you to hear with your eyes and ears. Open and receptive body language is important to fully absorb what the other person is saying and honor their air time.

Resist the urge to jump in with a solution or a contribution. Allow the speaker to finish. Know that moments of silence allow for comprehension and processing.

When the speaker is finished, ask clarifying questions to ensure that you have understood them correctly. Paraphrase salient bits of the content using language like: "What I heard you say is…" and give the presenter the space to illuminate, if needed.

Brave up

Bad things happen when good people say nothing. If you witness inappropriate behavior, consider how you can intervene to mitigate the situation. Being an advocate for others is a key part of trusting relationships and impactful communication.

Be a true leader and model the way for positive and supportive interactions. It takes courage and bravery to speak up when something inappropriate happens. These acts of courage will soon permeate to create a culture of advocacy with positive benefits.

Related: 5 Networking Tips for Introverts Moving to a New Industry

Be kind

As the iconic bumper sticker says, mean people suck. Differences in style, opinion and ideological viewpoint will always happen. Research has shown that diverse perspectives on a team lead to more creative solutions and productivity.

When we lose civility with those with whom we disagree, we miss the entire point of diverse perspectives. Better Angels is a non-profit national citizen's movement created to reduce political polarization in the United States by bringing together opposing viewpoints to understand each other and teach practical skills for communicating across political differences.

Disagreement is healthy, but waging war at work when colleagues disagree is debilitating and toxic.


I see professionals spiral in communication meltdowns when they focus on a singular either/or scenario. Most workplace conflict can be solved with compromise or an alternative solution that is not yet on the table.

Instead of heading into a negotiation in attack mode, consider these communication prompts to diffuse the emotion and focus on jointly created solutions.

  • How can I help?
  • Can we come together to find a solution?
  • Let's meet half way…

Stop the blame game

Renowned author and research professor at University of Houston, Brené Brown is teaching the world how to be brave leaders. I'm a Brené Brown fan, and I especially love her video on blaming, which makes us all recall a scenario when we blamed someone else inappropriately.

Relationships will be more authentic and trusting when we stop the blame game and take responsibility for our actions. This requires humility and vulnerability, which can make us feel uncomfortable.

Growth happens when we are uncomfortable. If you have done something wrong -- own it. Ask for forgiveness and offer a genuine apology. Don't ruminate on something that happened. Address it head-on and set the groundwork for a new beginning.

Gossip is toxic

We all know that gossip is harmful, hurtful and rarely, if ever, based in truth. Yet, I have clients in organizations of all sizes and industries who report that gossip is pervasive in their workplace.

Be firm in your commitment not to gossip. What might seem innocent at first can grapevine into something that ruins a reputation and causes serious harm.

Go to the source and nip the gossip in the bud. Don't succumb to collegial peer pressure if you hear gossip shared among colleagues. Don't take the bait -- walk away and be firm in your conviction not to participate.

As Michelle Obama once said, "When they go low, we go high." Taking the high road can be lonely, but it's always the right thing to do.

Set the ground rules

I work with many hiring managers who talk about the "no jerk policy" when sourcing candidates for open positions. Every team should come together to set ground rules for behavior and communication. If the team creates the ground rules this will enhance buy-in and accountability.

If your team has been together for a while, refresh your ground rules. Consider how new hires will change the dynamic and give them the opportunity to share in the creation of the revised code of conduct.

Validation makes the world go round

We know intellectually that it's OK to disagree with someone and that diverse viewpoints lead to strong teams and productive organizations. Emotions get high when we don't feel validated when trying to share our point of view.

Take a moment and breathe before you speak and use the intentional pause to honor others by being an active listener.

Related: 3 Keys to Future-Proofing Your Business

Your willingness to own your mistakes, apologize and be grateful are the foundation of strong communication. We can work out our differences, and we must tap our better angels to do so with compassion, dignity and respect -- even when it's difficult.

(By Caroline Dowd-Higgins. Caroline authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2ndedition and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to: Medium, Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show, Thrive!, about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life- on iTunes and SoundCloud.)

Wavy Line
Ellevate is a global network of professional women who are committed to elevating each other through education, inspiration and opportunity. 

Editor's Pick

A Leader's Most Powerful Tool Is Executive Capital. Here's What It Is — and How to Earn It.
One Man's Casual Side Hustle Became an International Phenomenon — And It's on Track to See $15 Million in Revenue This Year
3 Reasons to Keep Posting on LinkedIn, Even If Nobody Is Engaging With You
Why a Strong Chief Financial Officer Is Crucial for Your Franchise — and What to Look for When Hiring One

Related Topics


How to Use Pop-Up Advertisements on Your Website Without Annoying Users

Pop-ups are potent tools for web conversions. Here's how to use them without driving your users away.

Personal Finance

How to Make 6 Figures Right Out Of College

Don't get stuck in the system and break out using this method.

Business News

The Virgin Islands Want to Serve Elon Musk a Subpoena, But They Can't Find Him

Government officials would like to talk to Tesla's owner as part of an investigation into the Jeffrey Epstein case.

Operations & Logistics

7 Ways Data Helps Your Restaurant Succeed

By using underutilized analytics and data, you can gain valuable insights into your business and make data-driven decisions to achieve long-term success

Growing a Business

10 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Navigate a Down Economy

In a down economy, you face significant challenges as an entrepreneur — but here are ten tips to help you navigate.

Growing a Business

The Inevitable Challenges You'll Face as Your Business Grows — and How to Handle Them

There's going to be some discomfort as your business expands, but it doesn't have to stop you from achieving massive success.