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With unemployment hovering at historically low levels, businesses often struggle to attract and retain top-tier talent. It’s now more important than ever to cultivate good workplace relationships.

A study by Ultimate Software found that 6 out of 10 employees leave their jobs because they don’t feel emotionally safe. Toxic work environments can push good employees toward the exit and harm the productivity of those who stay.

One of the most frequent causes of workplace tension involves microaggressions, or everyday verbal or nonverbal slights that can create a hostile environment for those on the receiving end. Unaddressed microaggressions take up valuable time and energy. According to a CPP Global study, employees spend 2.1 hours per week dealing with conflict in the workplace, translating to 385 million working days per year at a cost of $359 billion.

To keep your team functioning at its best, leaders need to prevent microaggressions and promote positive, respectful discourse in the workplace. This requires navigating the complex machinery of human relationships, applying empathy, fairness and a nimble understanding of shifting cultural traits.

How can a manager handle such a complex task? Here are a few ideas to get you started:


Acknowledge that we all have biases

Many microaggressions derive from inherent biases that we all carry inside us. Fortunately, with some work and honest reflection, we can reprogram our brains to combat the biases that lead to insensitive comments. Using a tool like the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) helps to identify our own biases so that we can begin to understand how they subconsciously shape our point of view.


Implement a plan to overcome unconscious bias

Unconscious bias training programs can help employees understand their own biases and how they play into their everyday interactions. Last year, Google and Microsoft unveiled their own innovative bias trainings featuring real-world examples and role-playing exercises that encouraged employees to put their bias awareness into action. Try tasking a diverse group of employees to develop their own unconscious bias training. This empowers your team to customize the training to suit your specific environment and sends a message that you’re serious about tackling the problem head-on.


Speak face-to-face when confronting problems

Electronic correspondence has become an ever-present part of our workday. While digital communication methods are helpful for a busy workplace, they leave much to be desired regarding effective communication because text doesn’t easily convey tone or intent. It’s best to have face-to-face conversations with your colleague and team members when addressing potentially sensitive topics. Body language and facial expressions tell us a lot about the speaker’s intent, so direct communication makes it less likely that a message will be misinterpreted.


Encourage open dialogue and discussion

Office tension is uncomfortable but the discomfort multiplies if your team has no way of voicing their issues. Make it clear that your team is encouraged to bring their problems to you. This gives you a chance to empathize with their situation and try to find ways to find common solutions.


You don’t need to be everybody’s friend to establish a peaceful workplace, but you will need to show your team that you’re an ally. Your task is to build up trust until your team believes that you’re trying to help everyone succeed. Through vigilant introspection, open communication, empathy and fair policies, you’ll have an easier time getting everyone on board so you can all leave conflict behind and focus on growing a successful business together.

Maintaining a profitable business is challenging enough, don’t let workplace tension create additional obstacles to your success. 

Mike Trueba, CCIM is Vice President, Business Banking for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.9 billion financial institution, which serves a growing membership of nearly 150,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels, as well. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA.