Stressed out by your coworker? Three tried & true secrets to settling workplace tension

People & Culture

We’ve all been there. Tension comes in many shapes and sizes, and can be so thick, you could cut it with a knife.

  • A disagreement with a coworker that started out as inconsequential.
  • A light jab that really hurt.
  • A snide remark.
  • A passive aggressive comment.
  • A misunderstanding or unspoken disagreement on a topic or event.
  • Saying something, but not really saying it.

It all leads to tension and it’s absolutely normal. In fact, it’s not a bad thing at all.

As individuals, we process information and prioritize differently… and that’s okay. But with that, tension can arise, and many of us don’t know how to say what needs to be said, or feel it’s not our place.

Instead of feeling unsure, or battling a lack of open communication channels, try these three tips to address and mitigate workplace tension.

Try humour

Humour works if there’s already an established humour filled relationship with the person. It’s a great tactic to disarm a tension filled scenario.

Joke about your weekends or the latest Netflix comedy? That might be a good indicator that you can start with humour to deflate a tense situation.

Humour comes with having strong emotional intelligence (EI). Without EI, humour can be misread and make you come across as dry and offensive.

Hey Michelle, why didn’t the teddy bear want dessert?


Because he was stuffed!

Now you’re the only one laughing.

Know your audience and rapport with the individual and approach with caution.

Ask really good questions

Always seek to understand first, before expressing your feelings about the situation.

If you don’t start by asking really good questions, try to comprehend what’s going on for the other person. Tone and body language are important—you don’t want to come across as an opponent. If you’re seen as an opponent, you can’t be seen as someone with a good suggestion or respectable different perspective.

Try these conversation openers:

  • Listen, I acknowledge that we’re on different pages, and I’d like to see it from your perspective. Help me to get to where you are.
  • Can you help me understand why you see it that way?
  • Walk me through it. Let’s take that, play it out and extend it further to see the impact it’s going to have projecting into the future.

Walking the person through the tension, step by step, helps them realize the difference in opinions and oftentimes leads to conflict resolution.

Consider a different alternative

If the person you’re experiencing tension with isn’t open to hearing a different perspective, that’s a sign there’s a massive roadblock ahead. Escalate the situation to leadership to ensure professional resolution.

Still feeling stuck? I’m here to help.

Shannon Pearson


Shannon Pearson is a champion of culture and engagement at incrementa (un)consulting. She helps create high performance teams by connecting people to the organization’s DNA: it’s core values and purpose. Leveraging proven methodologies, she increases engagement and connection while reducing conflict.

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