Okay, so let me tell you a story that’s pretty typical…

The Chief People Officer of this big, big company rings me up. She’s got a problem at one of their manufacturing facilities. Picture this: over 200 people working there, and it’s a mess. Tension is through the roof. Employees are at odds with each other, managers are clashing, and everyone’s got beef with the execs. Naturally, I jumped in to sort it out.

Let’s set the scene: it’s like a workplace comedy, only nobody’s laughing. Grab your popcorn. You’ve got the training team doing their thing, showing employees how to do their jobs. But plot twist! The leads come in and say, ‘Nope, that’s all wrong.’ Cue the drama: trainers and leads are now in a standoff, glaring at each other across the metaphorical saloon.

But wait, there’s more. Quality control enters stage left, wagging their finger, telling everyone they’re flunking at their jobs. So now, trainers are mad at leads, leads are mad at trainers, and everyone’s mad at quality control.

Meanwhile, over in sales, it’s like a scene from a disaster movie. They’re scrambling because everything’s late, over budget, or just plain incorrect. Customers are less than thrilled, and the sales team’s stress levels are through the roof.

And then there’s the grand finale: the president of the company, fuming like a volcano on the verge of eruption. And who gets to clean up this epic mess? Good old Human Resources. They’re in hiring overdrive, trying to plug the holes in this sinking ship, all the while muttering, ‘Why can’t anyone just sort this out?

Angry director in shirt and tie arguing with his sloppy female employee.

It’s a circus and not the fun kind. The root of the problem? It’s like everyone’s reading from a different script. Training says one thing, leads say another, quality control is on a different page, and sales are just trying to juggle flaming torches.

The solution isn’t just hiring more people to join the chaos. It’s about getting everyone in a room and untangling this knot. It’s about aligning training with the leads, making quality control part of the solution, not just the problem-spotter, and giving sales the right info so they’re not making promises that turn into nightmares.

HR’s not just hiring; they’re like the peacekeepers in this Wild West. But to really solve this, it’s about fixing the management style, streamlining communication, and getting everyone to sing from the same song sheet. Only then can this workplace opera hit the right notes.

Now, this isn’t some rare, one-off situation. It’s something I’ve seen a lot. And here’s the deal: a lot of workplace tension comes down to one thing – unclear leadership. It’s like when bosses aren’t clear about what they want or need. It’s like throwing employees into a maze without a map. They’re left guessing, and that’s a recipe for trouble.

Let’s break down the signs and symptoms, shall we?

Let’s boil it down to something really simple. A big source of office drama? It’s when bosses aren’t clear.

Picture this: You’re a regular employee, but your boss is kind of like a mystery novel. What do they want? What’s the goal here? Nobody knows. You’re left guessing, and let’s be honest, guessing games are only fun at birthday parties.

This whole ‘guess what I’m thinking’ thing from the higher-ups? It causes all kinds of headaches. Imagine trying to hit a target blindfolded. That’s what it’s like for employees. They’re disconnected, feeling like they’re out there floating in space, trying to figure out what on earth counts as ‘doing a good job.’

And what happens next? People start underperforming, not because they’re not good at their jobs, but because they’re playing a game with no rules. Or, well, with invisible rules. That’s a breeding ground for all sorts of bad vibes.

Employee Confused at Meeting.

Tension at Work

Alright, let’s talk about when things get tense at work, and trust me, it’s more common than you’d think. It’s like having a slow leak in a tire – not always obvious, but it can really mess up your ride. Spotting these signs early is key to patching things up.

Communication Breakdown – This is the biggie. When people stop talking right, it’s like the first domino in a long line. Fewer chats, dodgy meetings, people not sharing info – it’s a recipe for mix-ups and mistakes, slowing everything down.

Morale Hits Rock Bottom – When tensions in the air, you’ll see folks losing their spark. They’re not into their jobs or the company anymore. It’s like watching enthusiasm evaporate. And when that goes, so does good work and bright ideas.

People Start Calling In Sick… Or Quitting – Tense Workplace? Watch the sick days pile up. Or worse, people start leaving. That’s bad news for everyone’s well-being, not to mention the hassle and cost of finding new folks.

Conflict and Hostility – It’s like workplace warfare. Arguments, gossiping, snarky comments, the whole shebang. It’s not just uncomfortable – it spreads and affects even those not directly involved.

Work Quality Takes a Dive – Stress and tension mean more boo-boos, missed deadlines, and just subpar work. That’s not good for business, reputation, or anything really.

Physical and Emotional Toll on Staff – We’re talking headaches, feeling wiped out, crabby moods, you name it. And don’t forget the serious stuff like anxiety and depression. It’s not just bad for work; it’s bad for people.

Isolation and Clique-forming – Tension can turn a workplace into a high school cafeteria. People stick to their groups, or worse, feel all alone. Plus, the gossip mill goes into overdrive. It’s human nature to want to be heard, but in a tense environment, having anybody you trust in authority often goes sideways.

These issues? They’re like termites in the foundation. Efficiency, meeting goals, and general vibes take a hit. It gets harder to keep good people and attract new ones. Morale issues can turn a decent workplace toxic, leading to more sick days and HR headaches.

In short, noticing and tackling workplace tension is super important. Left alone, it’s a mess for everyone and the business. What’s the fix? Solid communication, a supportive vibe, and being on the ball. That’s how you keep a workplace humming along nicely.”

Employees arguing in office.

Addressing the Problem: The Road to Clear Communication
Three Steps to Leadership Mastery

Step 1: Speak Clearly, Ask More, Listen Harder

Okay, let’s get this straight: Communication in leadership isn’t about giving speeches. It’s not a one-person show. It’s more like a tennis match – a back-and-forth exchange where everyone gets to hit the ball.

It’s not just about you talking; it’s about everyone talking and, more importantly, everyone listening. Sprinkle in some open-ended questions, nod along, and really soak up what they’re saying. It’s about showing you’re as invested in their thoughts as you want them to be in yours.

Now, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re communicating just because you’re talking. It’s not just about what you say; it’s about what they hear and understand. So, after you’ve shared your piece, ask for feedback. ‘Are we on the same page here?’ ‘What’s your take on this?’ This is how you make sure your message isn’t just heard but also gets the nod of understanding.

Regular check-ins are key. Swing by, see how things are going, and if anyone’s scratching their heads over the plan. This keeps everyone aligned and gives you a chance to clear up any confusion right off the bat.

The goal? To create a place where conversation flows freely and everyone feels their voice matters. That’s how you build a team that’s not just clocking in but truly engaged, working together like a well-oiled machine.

First things first: Leaders need to be crystal clear. That means setting goals that everyone can actually understand and aim for. But here’s the kicker: it’s not just about barking orders. It’s about admitting when you’ve been a part of the problem – maybe you’ve been a bit foggy or just not great at getting your point across.

So, start talking. But – and this is a big but – make it a two-way street. Encourage your team to chip in with their thoughts. It’s about listening as much as you speak, maybe more. Get feedback, make sure everyone’s on the same page, and keep checking in. It’s like making sure everyone’s reading the same book, not just holding it.

Example Time: Quick stand-up meetings can be gold. Kick off the day with a 5-minute huddle. What’s on the agenda? What’s everyone focusing on? Then wrap up the day the same way. What got done? Any roadblocks? Keep it snappy, keep it standing, and keep everyone in the loop.

Now, this might feel like it’s eating into your day, but trust me, it pays off. Clear communication cuts down on mix-ups and time-wasting. It’s about being effective, not just fast. Get everyone clear on their roles, and watch things start ticking along more smoothly.

Step 2: Get Your Hands Dirty

Next up, leaders need to really get what’s happening on the ground. It’s easy for bosses to get a bit disconnected from the day-to-day. That’s a one-way ticket to Misunderstanding City.

Leaders need to roll up their sleeves and dive in. Walk around, talk to people, and see what they’re up against. Recognize the good stuff on the spot. A pat on the back can do wonders. Keep it regular – like, every week regular. It’s about building a team where everyone feels seen and heard. Get out there on the front lines.

See what your team’s dealing with. Get stuck in. It’s not just about overseeing; it’s about understanding. Ask questions, listen to what your team’s saying, and show you genuinely care about their work.

Here’s the thing: there’s often this big chasm between what the execs think is happening and what’s actually happening on the ground. In every business, things change faster than a chameleon on a disco floor.

So, what happens? You’ve got your assembly folks, right? They’re spinning plates – loads of them – and up top, the execs are setting expectations based on… well, sometimes I wonder if they’re using a crystal ball. The result? Our poor team members are stuck in the middle, feeling like they’re juggling in the dark. Opportunities get missed, and team spirit starts to crumble.

Leaders, here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: Dive deep into the nitty-gritty of what your team does. Get involved early on in decisions and smash those communication silos to smithereens.

This isn’t just about gathering intel for decisions. It’s about showing respect and empathy. When you’re right there in the trenches with them, it does wonders for morale. It bridges that exec-employee gap and brings everyone onto the same page, building a workplace that’s not just efficient but also genuinely connected and motivated.

For Example: Here’s a neat trick I like: MBWA, or ‘Managing by Walking Around.’ It’s exactly what it sounds like. You, the leader, stroll around, chat with your team, see what they’re up to, and just get a feel for the place. It’s casual, but it’s also about making real connections.

Now, here’s the secret sauce of MBWA: catch your team doing things right. Spot them nailing it and tell them then and there. It’s like giving them a high-five. This isn’t just feel-good stuff; it’s backed by solid research. Gallup looked at 3 million workers, and guess what? Regular pats on the back are like rocket fuel for team happiness and commitment. Reward the behaviors you seek.

Here’s the goal: make sure every single person on your team gets some kudos at least once a week. It’s about making recognition a habit. This does wonders for the workplace vibe. People feel seen and valued, and that cranks up their loyalty and eagerness to chip in more.

Mix MBWA with a steady stream of props, and you’ve got yourself a workplace that’s buzzing with energy and positivity. Team members don’t just feel like cogs in a machine; they feel like stars. And who doesn’t want to work in a place like that?

Step 3: Listen, Act, and Keep Your Word

Finally, listen like your business depends on it – because it does. Ask open questions, and really hear what your team’s saying. But here’s the crucial part: act on it. Empty promises are worse than no promises. Follow through and keep the team in the loop, especially on the big stuff.

Alright, let’s dive into this: Listening, Keeping Your Word, and Keeping Everyone in the Loop. This trio is like the holy grail of leadership.

  • Listen Like You Mean It

Leaders gotta have their ears wide open. It starts with tossing out those open-ended questions to really get to the heart of what’s bugging your team. But here’s the crucial bit: actually, listen to what they say. I mean, really listen. It shows you respect them and you’re genuinely interested in what they’ve got to say.

Remember, it’s not personal. It’s a chance to grow and do better. And when problems pop up, jump on them. Fast. This shows everyone you’re not just nodding along; you’re taking action. Ignoring what you’ve heard or just sitting on it? That’s a one-way ticket to Trust Erosion City.

  • Walk the Talk

Now, if you promise to fix something, you better do it. Breaking promises? That’s how you break trust. And once that trust is gone, good luck getting honest feedback again. You’ll be flying blind, and that’s never good. Keep your word, and you keep the lines of communication wide open.

  • All Promises Need Big Follow-Through

This is super important with the big stuff and especially the small stuff like days off or benefits issues. Listen, write it down and make sure it is taken care of, then tell them it is taken care of. Don’t assume they will know.

Make sure they know it is done. I know you are busy, but if you want to be less busy, take care of things once and for all, and you will be less inundated with problems and problem employees.

Did you know that Gallup stats show that 70% of all managers’ time is spent dealing with the issues created by disengaged and underperforming employees? Well, partner, they are disengaged and disgruntled because you ain’t taking care of their issues. BOOM, there it is.

If you’re not showing progress or at least being transparent about it, you’re just brewing a big old pot of dissatisfaction. Keep people updated, even if you’re still working on it.

Now, here’s the thing: if you’re not stepping up as the problem-solver-in-chief, you’re setting up a world of trouble. Team members will start to think they’re on their own, and that’s when the grumbling starts. They’ll chat among themselves, and without your guidance, who knows what they’ll end up believing.

For Example: Open Meetings

Let’s talk about open meetings, a super strategy I picked up in my executive days. Take it from me: open meetings can work wonders. I’ve seen it in action. You get everyone together, no matter their job title, and let them speak their piece. Like a “Town Hall” without politics. Hold them monthly or, at the very least quarterly.

Yes, they will be bitch sessions in the beginning. But really. Do you not want to know what they are complaining about so you can do something about it? Or do you just want to keep dealing with the offspring of discontent?

Picture this: a room where everyone, and I mean everyone, gets to pitch in – newbies, old-timers, everyone. The goal? To create a space where ideas and challenges can fly free without anyone feeling left out.

Kick-off by laying out what the meeting’s about. It’s like setting the stage for a brainstorming jam session. You’re there to pinpoint the tough stuff – the things that are making everyone scratch their heads – and then, together, figure out how to tackle them. Diversity’s your friend here; different viewpoints can spark some real genius solutions.

Define the meeting’s goal, get everyone tossing ideas around, and make sure you’re valuing everyone’s input. Ask questions and allow silence to be your friend. Don’t get all awkward and fill in the gap. Let it stew. Believe me, someone will talk, and if you handle it right, more will follow. Pretty soon, you will have a tsunami of conversation. Whoo HOOO!

  • Have a note taker to capture the issues.
  • Do not defend, and do not take unpleasant feedback personally. Make it safe for all to express themselves.

This may take a while to build trust in these meetings but keep doing them. If you listen to and solve problems from their input, you will have them coming back for more, but you will, in time, find there are fewer problems and the problems they bring are reduced in intensity. Sweet!

And if you are hearing the same complaint for the one millionth time, don’t get frustrated with them. Look inward and ask. Why are they still complaining about this? Why have I not solved it?

Now, here’s the key: listen like you mean it. When someone tosses an idea into the ring, grab it and give it the attention it deserves. Show that you value what’s being said. It’s not just about nodding along; it’s about building on those ideas and keeping the ball rolling. That’s how you turn a good meeting into a goldmine of great ideas.

Open up the floor for team chats. Got a problem? Brainstorm it together. You’d be amazed at the gems you can find in these sessions. Active listening and constructive responses are key. Take your ego and hang it in the closet.

This isn’t so much about just collecting ideas; it’s about making everyone feel like they’re genuinely contributing to the company’s success. They want to be heard. Listen to them or they will find someone else to listen to them. Hello gossip, meet dysfunction!

Once, a part-timer threw out an idea that boosted sales by $500 million. That’s the power of really listening and collaborating.

So, in a nutshell, Listen, keep your promises, and keep everyone in the know. It’s about building trust, respect, and a sense of team. Do this right, and you’re not just solving problems; you’re creating a workplace where everyone feels heard, valued, and part of something bigger.”

To wrap this up, easing employee tension isn’t just about talking more. It’s about talking better, understanding the work, and backing up words with actions. Remember, if there’s tension, it’s usually not just the folks on the ground – it’s about how things are being run from the top. Fix that, and you’re well on your way to a happier, more productive workplace.”

It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of pieces: clear communication, really getting the day-to-day operations, keeping egos in check, keeping your word, syncing up goals, being real about what you’ve got to work with, making sure everyone feels part of the big story, and fine-tuning your management style.

Here’s a truth bomb: when your team is tense, it’s usually a sign that something’s up with the leadership or how the whole place is being run. It’s not just about a few grumpy employees. It’s like if your car’s making a weird noise – the problem isn’t the noise; it’s something under the hood.

Leaders need to step back and take a hard look at their own methods and the culture they’re brewing. It’s about realizing, ‘Hey, maybe we’re part of the problem.’ That’s not an easy pill to swallow, but it’s crucial. The tension you’re seeing? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The real issues are often tucked away in how things are being managed.

So, what’s the game plan? Well, it’s the one we are executing at the facility I mentioned in the beginning. Start by fixing what’s happening in the management team by taking my course, “How to Create and Manage Successful Action Plans”.  Get that right, and you’re on your way to smoothing out those tensions and making your workplace a well-oiled, happy machine.