Practical, Proven Ways to Address Stonewalling at Work
Wednesday, August 23, 2023 - Prophit Co.
As a leader, part of your responsibility is to ensure that your team is collaborating well amongst themselves, and that conflict is being handled with productivity and mutual respect. Stonewalling behavior stands in direct contrast to proper cooperation and conflict management, and given the potential detriments that can bring to your organization, getting ahead of it is very important. By nature, stonewalling is difficult to address, but Scott Levey, in an article posted to Target Training, provides some basic questions that leaders can ask themselves if they do encounter it. Here are some suggestions based on those questions:
- Identify what may be causing the stonewalling behavior and attempt to solve the problem at the source
- Consider the impact that stonewalling is having on your team and their results – just how interruptive and detrimental is it?
- Assess whether or not to involve HR or any other department/team that can help you handle the situation and stifle stonewalling behavior in the long term
If you are directly being stonewalled by someone else, you may find it difficult to immediately address the situation in a healthy manner, given that you’re likely frustrated as a result. However, staying in control of your emotions and keeping cool is critical to balance out the natural physiological response that stonewalling behavior brings out. Relationship expert Debbie Rivers states that the best thing you can do at the moment is to take a break from the conversation for a minimum of 20 minutes. Later, it might prove beneficial to pass on some advice or information on self-soothing to process their emotions better and avoid stonewalling behavior going forward (Diemar).
Self-soothing, as coined by the Gottman Institute, is the best method to use when you find yourself expressing stonewalling behaviors. To begin, you need to signal your intent to discontinue the conversation momentarily if your colleague hasn’t already done so. Once you are separated, imagine yourself in a place where you feel calm and safe, like a place that you remember fondly from your childhood. As you imagine yourself in this space, focus on breathing deeply, but naturally, and relax your body. For a while, do something that you find soothing and/or distracting, like meditating, listening to music, or anything that you know will put you in a calm state of mind (Lisitsa). Only return to the conversation once you are soothed and ready to face the conversation in a healthy manner.
The best way to address stonewalling behavior in others is to make them aware of self-soothing techniques. From a leadership and management perspective, this might mean providing education to your team on how to identify stonewalling behavior in the workplace and the concept of self-soothing as a remedy. In doing so, you’d be getting ahead of the problem rather than waiting to address it in the moment that it occurs. Regardless, you’ll want to remain vigilant to the signs of stonewalling behavior, and calmly weigh the options available to you to address it if and/or when it occurs.
Diemar, Edie-Louise. “4 types of conflict HR should know about” [Article]. 29 April, 2021. HRM Online. https://www.hrmonline.com.au/uncategorized/4-types-of-conflict/ [Accessed July 12, 2023]
Levey, Scott. “The Four Horsemen: contempt and stonewalling in the workplace” [Article]. Target Training. https://www.targettraining.eu/improving-contempt-stonewalling-in-the-workplace/ [Accessed July 12, 2023]
Lisitsa, Ellie. “The Four Horsemen: Stonewalling” [Article]. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-stonewalling/ [Accessed July 12, 2023]