Talking tragedy at the office

Is it constructive to share your views on current events, such as the shooting in Arizona? See what one expert recommends.

When a tragedy hits, the chatter at the water cooler begins. But what if co-workers are on different sides of the fence? Can these colleagues discuss the issues without distracting their fellow office mates?

Sharon Birkman, CEO of corporate consultant Birkman International (www.birkman.com), says anytime there is a tragic circumstance -- such as the recent shooting in Arizona -- the workplace environment can suffer if opinions aren't expressed. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do so.

"Even if you completely disagree with someone, you need to be able to sit down nose to nose and discuss," says Birkman, whose company developed the Birkman Method to help nonprofits and corporations identify their strengths and maximize communication. "That's NOT being on Facebook or sending an e-mail. That isn't the same. I'm talking face to face."

Birkman says it's an absolute must to let your team or staff know they can express how they feel, but that it must be done in a respectable manner.

"Our core word for 2011 is dialogue," she says. "We encourage active, non-judgmental listening and give people exercises to do this. When you listen without getting hot-headed, it can be very healing."

And that dialogue should extend to every level of the organization, Birkman says.

"Whether it's the receptionist or CEO, all the members of the team should be having a dialogue. It's what makes our society tick. We need differing sides and opposite strengths to have a functioning and thriving society."

Have you been able to have constructive discussions at work? Let us know.

jweigel@tribune.com

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