5 Authentic Relating Techniques That Dissolve Tension in the Workplace

Elaina Giolando September 20, 2018

What if you could physically feel how true you were being to yourself in any given moment? What if you could recognize exactly what it feels like in your body the moment before you blame someone else, and stop?

All of our bodies respond predictably to emotions. By developing a somatic awareness of those patterns, we can regain emotional sensitivity, increase our social intelligence, and better resolve conflict.

Authentic relating is one of the most practical ways to do exactly this. It involves developing an internal map of how external stimuli affect our individual bodies and applying simple communication techniques whenever we recognize these triggers. Anyone exposed to even the basics of this method can learn to share their life experiences with others in a way that disarms tension, creates clarity, and positively influences group behavior.

In its highest form, authentic relating helps practitioners (and everyone around them) release deep-rooted physical and psychological stress caused by not having the tools to recognize and express what’s really going on in their lives — truthfully and tactfully.

Here are five quick techniques to bring the best of authentic relating into workplace conflict resolution, as taught by authentic relating experts Jason Digges and Ryel Kestano, co-founders of Authentic Relating Training International.

1. Establish consent.

Very often we unload unsolicited advice onto others without considering whether or not our opinion is truly welcome. Authentic relating advocates for checking in with the other person before offering advice or opening up a more intimate conversation. Try these communication techniques:

  • “Would you like my opinion on what you’re sharing, or would it feel better if I just listened? I’m happy to do either.”
  • “Hey, something is coming up for me that I’d like to check in with you about. Is now a good time?”

2. Practice feeling emotion directly in your body.

Everything we experience in life causes an emotional reaction, and every emotional reaction has a corresponding physical reaction. Many of us are cut off from this mind-body correspondence, which can mask the full weight of our emotions.

Start paying attention to where you feel tension in your body. You may be able to release stress, anger, and anxiety by simply learning to relax your stomach when it tenses up due to a colleague’s triggering tone of voice, instead of relieving that stress through an email outburst later.

3. Own your experiences from the first-person point of view.

Let’s take that colleague’s tone of voice as an example. You can either ignore it, allowing it to cause stress consciously or unconsciously in your mind and body, or you can address it through both body awareness (as mentioned above) and intimacy-building communication techniques.
Authentic relating techniques rely on using the first-person voice — focusing on your subjective experience of any situation and leaving room for the other person to have an equally valid but different experience.

In the case of being stressed by your colleague’s tone of voice, you might try saying something like this: “I noticed you raised your voice at my assistant today, and it made me feel really uncomfortable. I’ve had past experiences where that meant I or someone I cared about wasn’t being listened to or wasn’t being treated fairly. I want to check in with you, because I really value team harmony and my experience working with you tells me you do, too. What was your experience of that interaction earlier?”

4. Express your desires through a values lens.

This kind of communication won’t change someone else’s patterns overnight, but it does set a powerful example. The response outlined above raises a concern through the lens of a personal value — and leaves room for an alternative value to be raised and taken into consideration. This helps direct the conversation to a more productive place.

Here’s another example of that: “I noticed that you interrupted me yesterday and today when I was sharing ideas in the standup meeting, and that makes me feel disregarded. I value being heard and seen by you and helping everyone on the team to be heard and seen, too. Have you noticed this happening between us as well?”

Invoking a bit of vulnerability in your expression of values (“I value being heard by you”) goes a long way toward taking the conversation to a more meaningful place and building rapport between you and the person with whom you’re experiencing conflict. Needless to say, practicing humility goes a long way, too.

5. Make the implicit explicit.

There are many underlying dynamics going on in any given relationship — admiration, jealousy, emotional distance, sexual tension. We don’t usually comment on these implicit dynamics because we haven’t learned how to name them, shed light on them with openness and kindness, and invite them into a shared awareness with the other person in a way that isn’t socially awkward.

Authentic relating emphasizes that the things we wouldn’t normally state openly can actually be portals for deeper connection. They could even be positive things we notice about the other person that we feel too vulnerable to readily acknowledge. Here are some examples:

  • “When I’m around you, I feel safe to share my craziest ideas. Thanks for creating that space.”
  • “I’ve noticed that I feel intimidated by you when we talk about this project. I think that’s because I don’t know as much about it as I’d like. Would you be able to share more of your knowledge with me sometime?”
  • “I see you in the office every day, but I’m realizing we haven’t had a chance to get to know each other at all. Would you be up for having lunch tomorrow?”

Turn tension into connection

Ultimately, tension or awkwardness in any relationship is just intimacy waiting to happen. When it’s named and addressed in the right way, instead of being swept under the rug or tolerated with resentment, it’s usually a relief for both parties — and causes increased trust and connection.

It can also result in an increased respect for the person who initiated the conversation and brought the mutual discomfort to light in an unarmed way. These kinds of people help change culture by challenging default modes of communication and leading by example. Showcasing that strength in vulnerability promotes closer and more effective communities of all types.

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