SMOOTHING RUFFLED FEATHERS
In the world of birds, ruffled feathers is one sign of a virus.
Isn't that also the case at work? Ruffled feathers can spread
like a virus throughout your office, department or corporation.
Depending on the influence of the 'ruffled one', that spread can
Infected birds shed the virus by exhaling and excreting. Isn't
this what happens in the workplace? Gossip and anger can quickly
change the workplace environment from healthy to malicious. And,
it's very contagious.
When words are involved, a high level of refinement of the virus
is possible. Stories change subtly. Emphasis is given to
different aspects by different people. Additions are appended.
Motives are questioned. Assumptions are made. Often, the initial
act becomes entirely unrecognizable in a very short time.
What to do? Be H.I.P.!
Here are three tips for smoothing ruffled feathers as soon as
you notice them. If you are the 'ruffler', implement these
immediately. If you are the 'ruffled', these work for you as
OK, you may be thinking, 'It was honesty that got me into this
position in the first place!" True, you may have blurted out
some unvarnished truth in a moment of frustration. That's often
the fastest way to ruffle a few feathers.
Now that you have calmed down some, it is time for a different
kind of honesty. First, be honest with yourself. What was your
intention when you opened your mouth? Did you intend to inflict
pain? Did you intend to create tension and dissention? Did you
really just want to smack the other person and you did it with
your words? Or, were you just a little clumsy in trying to
rectify a frustrating situation?
Now, if you are completely honest, it is likely that you so
wanted rid of your frustration that you were lacking a little
finesse. Right? If that is the case, you can now go to the
person you ruffled and truthfully say that hurt was not your
intent. Be honest about your outburst and identify it as a less
than effective way of releasing your pain. Ask if you can
discuss the issue and work out a solution that is acceptable to
Oh, so, you really did want them to feel small, dumb and
inferior? You're on your own...likely looking for a new
position. Of course, if you're the boss and you did this, you're
also on your own...looking for new employees!
Let no grass grow under your feet. As soon as you have calmed
down or thought better of your words, go to the other person and
acknowledge what's going on. Take responsibility for your part
in the interaction. Don't let this fester or spread.
Different people react differently to pain and stress. Some will
internalize it and make themselves very uncomfortable, even
unwell. Others will spread it around. This is the virus.
As soon as you can--as soon as your blood pressure is back to
normal, your vision improves and the blood has returned to your
centers of reason and logic--take responsibility for what you
have done or said. CAUTION: At this point, there is a tendency
to degenerate into sentences involving the word 'You'. This is
not the time for that. Speak only about yourself and your
feelings. This takes practice.
Why be immediate? Because pain swells things. You've noticed
that. You need to put ice on the situation right away. It's that
When folks are upset, there is a tendency to talk about what you
don't want, won't put up with and cannot stand any longer. Sure,
that releases your frustration, however, it does not move the
Talk about what you do want, what will help and what can smooth
the way for a better working relationship. Be positive. Assuring
folks that you want things to work is far better than screaming
about what isn't working!
You don't have to put on a 'Pollyanna' approach to be positive.
It is a simple flip of the mind-set. Switch from the past to the
future. "Let's do it this way!" is much easier to hear than "I
hate it when you _____!", isn't it? Quick rule of thumb: Before
you open your mouth, run the words you are about to say through
your mind. Would you be able to hear it well? Would it help move
the situation to resolution? If the answer is "no", you've got
time to change your words. If the answer is 'yes', then proceed
with assurance that you are working to create the best
Any young duck can cruise through the pond knocking folks down.
Smoothing ruffled feathers takes maturity, intelligence and
willingness. Don't be a dumb duck. Learn to calm the waters and
only create ripples that get you where you want to go!