3 Areas to Look for Workplace Friction

workplace friction
Friction is a powerful thing – 350,000 years ago it was the means by which people first generated fire. Friction and flint changed the way us human folk lived.

Friction between people can be a little like fire. When small, controlled and combined with a dollop of creativity, it can ignite new ideas and spark action. However, when not done with care or mindfulness, it can start dangerous fires both within your workplace and within the mindset of your team.

I see 3 habits that can create too much friction. Friction that can lead to ‘fires’.

Not listening – If you needed to select just one skill for building a sense of trust, rapport and respect, it would be listening. Let’s face it, when we feel listened to and heard, it goes a long way to feeling like we are part of the team. Not being listened to can be really stressful. Sachiko Mineyama, a researcher in Japan, found that team members with supervisors who didn’t actively listen to their team, displayed psychological stress and a sense of reduced job control. Not being listened to is like two sticks being rubbed together. Keep going long enough and ignition will occur.

It is important to remember that listening is a powerful skill that requires practice to master – it is not just a natural talent.

The blame game – Blame creates friction that can very quickly turn into a blaze. Did you ever see the movie Stand By Me? Think of the scene with the pie eating competition. That is what blame is like. When someone doesn’t feel good they throw up blame (or in the movie, pie) on someone else, who then throws up their blame on another person and so on. Some people throw up blame on themselves. All and all, it turns into a total mess. While this is admittedly a somewhat gross analogy, there is one more part of it that rings true. When someone throws up blame on you, it feels horrid, sticky and it kind of smells! Ok, that is enough of that talk…

The remedy to blame is to build a culture of self-responsibility and respectful boundaries. These are learnable skills that can be built into your team.

Resistance to showing appreciation – Appreciation is a like a secret currency. In the workplace, researchers have found that where appreciation is prevalent, the workers are happy and perform well. Sometimes appreciation can be missing from workplace culture: maybe it is about the nature of competition; a prevalence of scarcity mindset; or perhaps it just gets lost in the busy-ness of the day to day. When team members don’t feel appreciated it can cause friction that is hidden from view, out of plain sight. However, like the friction of rubbing electric wires in your roof, it is just a matter of time before fire breaks out.

Learning virtuous language and using communication methods such as strength acknowledgment and appreciative inquiry are effective skills that managers can use to really intensify employee effectiveness while building a culture of acknowledgment and respect.

Do you see these friction points playing out in your organisation? The wonderful thing about friction and fire is that, once the friction stops, so too does the risk of wild fire. Just as in your organisation, by addressing these friction points, you can save yourself from having to deal with the fallout that the fire creates. These can include presenteeism, absenteeism and staff turnover – factors that combine to cost the Australia economy an estimated $87.1 billion dollars annually.

Where can you stop some friction today?


photo credit to Holly Victoria Norval under CC licence

Here are the references used in this article.
Mineyama, Sachiko and team “Supervisors’ Attitudes and Skills for Active Listening with Regard to Working Conditions and Psychological Stress Reactions among Subordinate Workers.”

Olurotimi A. and team 2016. The Psychological Impact of Recognition and Appreciation on Job Satisfaction and Job Performance among IT Employees: Review.

AHRI. “AHRI Pulse Survey – Turnover and Retention.” October, 2015

Absenteeism in the Australian workplace – Third Sector – News, Leadership and Professional Development.

Presenteeism costs economy $34 billion a year through lost productivity, report shows – ABC News

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