Land Mines in the Office

When someone speaks to me in a way that makes me feel incompetent. Attempting heavy discussion before I have had my morning coffee. Interrupting my workflow/train of thought for non-emergency needs.

Land mines are hidden communication barriers that tend to fully shut down a conversation or collaboration attempt without regard for the urgency, impact, or content of the discussion. The three snippets that lead in this article are just samples of very real submissions by members of our team during an exercise we recently participated in. That exercise was focused not only on exposing some of our own personal land mines, but also capitalizing upon some of the surprise you may have when you discover their existence, who they are linked to, and how we can uncover more.

During our 30 minute exercise, we asked 15 people to write down 2 or more land mines that were important to them and that people in the office (current or past) had triggered unknowingly. The results were overwhelming and truly underscored all of the personal bias and hurts from previous encounters that remain as intense vulnerabilities even years later. That’s not to say we don’t try to help people avoid the detrimental effects of stepping on a land mine; often we find ourselves sending nonverbal cues to ward people off the path, but the desire to resolve things now and with very little deviation from our communication path may still lead us into the mine field.

One of the great outcomes from the exercise is that, as a trusted circle of people that count on each other for shared success, we are able to look inward and promote the presence of our land mines more openly once we stopped to acknowledge their existence. Then, moving forward, we can have more open conversation about whether we are “stepping on a land mine” or not. What’s more, the training around around this activity helps us have more situational awareness and can guide us towards “disarming” or avoiding these hot spots.

To better appreciate the vulnerability to these land mines and mitigate their involvement, try these simple mechanisms:

  • Recognize the other party’s perspective
  • Avoid boxing in the other person with stereotypes
  • Minimize opportunities for message confusion
  • Establish a real relationship as a base to work from
  • Reword and expand jargon to decrease the necessity for translation
  • Make sure it is the right time and place

Through open, honest assessment we can raise awareness of both our own and others’ land mines and pave the way for productive conversation at the right time and in the right frame of mind. Try this exercise in your own group and take time to absorb the results; your team is worth it and you owe it to one another to protect them from those things hidden under the surface.

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