Détente in the Workplace

Remember détente? 

Anybody who lived through the Nixon years will remember the word.  But if you’re like me, you didn’t quite know what it meant.  As a kid, when I heard Henry Kissinger talk about “détente with the Soviets,” I always figured he meant, “We agree not to bomb each other for now.”

As it turns out, détente is a much more interesting idea.  Détente is the process of relaxing tension and building mutual confidence.  In the 70s, we didn’t just stop bombing each other—we also sent ballet companies and art exhibits back and forth.  Our leaders got together at Camp David and toasted marshmallows or whatever they do.  The bottom line:  We got to see each other as people.

So what does this have to do with the workplace?  Nothing at all—unless you’ve got yourself a Cold War going on.

A Cold War in the office can make every day a living hell—cold stares, muttered threats, passive-aggressive undercutting between two people who can’t stand each other.  Before you know it, it’s getting in the way of your productivity, your morale, even your enjoyment of life.

If you find yourself in this kind of ongoing standoff with a coworker, you know in your heart of hearts that it’s not going away on its own.  It’s time to open up a can of détente.  Here’s how:

• Be gently direct.  Go directly to the other person and say “Hey, I think we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.  I know you’re a good person, and most days, I’m not that bad either.  Let’s see what we can do about it.”
 Get specific.  “If you want me to change some behavior, would you please honor me with a direct request to change that behavior.  I’d be happy to entertain your thoughts.  But I think you’ll agree that it really isn’t good for us or for the company to continue in this way.”
• Assume the best.  Always state what you believe was their best intention first: “I know you really care about this organization and getting results, and you may be thinking I’ve violated those values in some way. I certainly haven’t done this intentionally, and I really want us to be cohesive and paddling in the same direction.  I know we can work this out if we understand what the other needs as we’re both good people…”

It’s hard for another person to continue digging in when they are approached so generously.  But if they do—if the person attacks you personally or starts up the behaviors again—you need to take the next step to work toward resolution, whether an intervention or a removal or something else. 

You will know that you did everything you could to resolve things amiably.  But one way or another, the Cold War has GOT to end—for everyone’s sake.

One Response to “Détente in the Workplace”

  1. Kaydi says:

    Sorry to hear about Winston. We lost our golden, Milkshake, the exact same way and within a week. Life is7128#&n;t the same, but he gave us so much in those 9.5 years. Good luck in finding another great golden.

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