Five Myths About Workplace Dynamics

Workplace communication exists at the intersection between business and psychology. Mistaken ideas about both fields have spawned many ideas about workplace dynamics that don’t stand up to close examination. Click on the links below to learn more:

Myth #1: Emotion has no place in the workplace.

Even if this were true, it would be impossible to put into practice. The fact is that all of us are people with a multitude of feelings and emotions that are with us whether we’re at work or not. While some of these feelings can certainly be uncomfortable and can cause trouble at times, the problem is usually not the emotions themselves but how we handle (or don’t handle) them.

Discouraging expression of feelings can make problems on a strained team much worse. When people’s feelings are quieted down too often, their passion and enthusiasm for their work disappears too, leading to a chronic lack of motivation and discouragement. Also, tense feelings that aren’t openly acknowledged find other indirect ways of expression that are often counterproductive and even destructive. We give you expert guidance to create a safe atmosphere in which people can say what’s on their minds so that they can be their creative, most productive best. Our skilled facilitation helps revitalize the members of your team and clear the way to better work outcomes and happier people.

Myth #2: People fall into categories like "The Clown," “The Whiner,” “The Stoic,” “The Boss,” etc.

It is very tempting to come up with simple ways to understand ourselves and each other. Using such categories helps us to feel as if we have a clear handle on matters that are in fact extremely complicated and can take years to learn to untangle. A popular idea is that by coming to understand what “type” you and your colleagues are, you can manage your team better. This flies in the face of everything we know about the varied nature of human behavior. In fact, one indicator of the psychological health of an individual or a team is the range of different responses available for use. While some generalities can be made about the people on your team, they are of very limited value and can actually hamper progress. There are three main reasons why this is so:
  • A fundamental of group dynamics is that we are constantly interacting with the people around us in highly complex and often unpredictable ways, based on our current state of mind, what we perceive, and who we are engaging with. The truth is that though we all draw on certain patterns of responsiveness that are most familiar to us, we do this in relationship to the others around us.
  • Context matters! Everyone can find their inner clown, whiner, stoic, or boss given the right circumstances. Your team will work best when your members enjoy the flexibility to be themselves more fully. Creating an environment in which the least assertive member of your team feels emboldened to take initiative in their own way and the most confrontational member feels safe enough to let an argument slide is the best way to optimize your team’s potential. This won’t happen if you promote the idea that the “arguer is an arguer.”
  • Labels like these backfire by inviting judgment and becoming self-fulfilling prophecies of rigid and narrow roles. This is counterproductive to a team that is already experiencing challenges. In any company culture, certain types of characteristics are seen as more valuable than others. It is too easy for someone to fear being the “bad” one while someone else gets the “good” label. This can lead to greater polarization and a sense of demoralization on your team.

The only way to really come to understand what is happening in any group is to
learn as much as possible about each individual and closely observe the interactions of the group. This is what we do in every project during our comprehensive assessment. We won’t ever label or stereotype a member of your team. Instead, we’ll help you come to a richer understanding of each individual as a person, as well as a player in the larger group dynamic.

Myth #3: Groups can resolve conflicts on their own.

Most of the time, when colleagues get into trouble, the people involved want to make things right. They will try to resolve the tension they sense in their own ways. Sensing a problem in relationship with someone at work, some might be inclined to attempt to be especially friendly and accommodating in order to cultivate goodwill and overcome frustration. Others might try to solve the problem by raising the bar to prevent disappointment, or by being particularly assertive in an attempt to avoid misunderstandings. Still others might cope by dropping hints, ignoring the problem, or trying to be patient and assuming that problems will fade in time.

Each of these solutions are well intentioned, and has its own internal logic. Each individual has come up with their method based on their own personality, their unique worldview, and their understanding of the other person. None of the methods are “wrong.” Yet, because each is a partial picture that originates in highly subjective and mostly unconscious processes, they are all likely to fail, and the conflict will worsen.

The subtle nature of group dynamics and the complexity of human relatedness means that issues that arise in the workplace aren’t readily solved by the people involved. They require the assistance of a
highly skilled professional external to the group, who is trained to carefully sort through interactions and sensitively suggest the remedies that will actually make a difference.

Myth #4: It doesn’t matter if we get along if we’re getting the job done.

It matters! An unhappy team is a team that is working suboptimally. Even if there are no obvious signs that workplace conflict is getting in the way of your deliverables and goals, you may be missing hidden clues. Don’t take our word for it. Findings from a study quoted in an article entitled, “The Real Cost of Workplace Conflict” in Entrepreneur Magazine showed the following:

  • 25 percent of employees said that avoiding conflict led to sickness or absence from work.
  • Nearly 10 percent reported that workplace conflict led to project failure
  • More than one-third said that conflict resulted in someone leaving the company, either through firing or quitting.

There is an enormous amount of data proving that workplace stress and unresolved conflict leads to a variety of adverse consequences from lost profits and lost time, to diminished quality of work, greater absenteeism, higher stress, and poorer physical and emotional health.

Getting the help you need at an early stage can prevent these issues from undoing all the hard work you have put into building your company. Investing in your team’s communication needs has real payoffs, including:

  • Less time wasted on repeating unproductive patterns
  • Increased worker morale
  • Greater optimism, enthusiasm, and innovation
  • More efficient meetings
  • Improved mutual trust and collaboration

Myth #5: I’m careful about what I say and pay attention, so I know what’s going on.

Studies show that between 50% to 80% of what is communicated is nonverbal and unconscious. That means that even when people are paying very close attention to a conversation they are having with each other, much of what happens bypasses the part of cognitive processing that they are aware of. MIT Professor Alex Pentland has done extensive research on how subtle cues he terms “honest signals” can predict the outcome of an interaction even without information about the context of what is said. In other words, what you say is much less important than how you say it, and mostly, we are unaware of how we say things. His data suggests that though many of us prefer to believe we are making rational, conscious decisions, that simply isn’t the case most of the time. This is why communications in pairs and groups can become so confusing so quickly.

An objective outside observer can help sort out what might be going on, but only an outside observer with particular skills can pay close enough attention to catch the small communications that make the biggest difference. A psychotherapist spends years learning to observe, translate, and respond to the subtlest nonverbal cues and studying the rules of unconscious behavior. That’s why PPSF Consulting brings the highly specialized skills of a clinically trained psychotherapist into your workplace. We know communication isn’t a simple thing, and we have the expertise you need to help sort out what’s really being sent and received.