In a divisive environment (whether at work, in your community or in the current political environment), it is all too easy to lash out in emotion before thinking things through. Unfortunately, while doing so may feel good momentarily, it doesn’t do anything to heal divisions. Continually chafing a divisive situation or relationship hinders productivity and creates a consistent sense of anxiety.

Here are three things you can do to avoid driving a further wedge into any already divisive situation.

Respond rather than react

In a discordant environment, it is easy to react to the smallest of stimuli – a sideways comment, a missed deadline, a report read the wrong way, a social media post, etc. But reaction is inherently emotional and knee-jerk, and usually creates more friction. Response, on the other hand, requires thought. It allows time for empathy and analysis of facts. In order to work effectively in a contentious environment it’s vital to respond, rather than react.

Listen actively

It is normal human nature, when in a conversation, whether stressful or otherwise, to listen with the intention of responding. While the other person is speaking, we are scripting our next contribution to the conversation, our next argument, in the back of our head. This prevents us from really hearing what the other person is saying – from hearing what they are trying to communicate. In order to work together in stressful situations, it’s important to listen with the intention of listening. Listening with the intention to understand allows us to focus on hearing the message behind the words.

Don’t confuse issues with personalities

It is also a natural human tendency to assign personality characteristics to issues or difficult behaviors. (“Because Ken is always away from his desk, he is just lazy.”) While natural, this tendency only serves to cause more friction and alienation. If we are endeavoring to treat all people with respect, it is important to separate a person from a behavior. Separate the issue at hand from any personalities involved. In all situations it’s important to address a behavior without attacking a person.

These three things require a consistent effort, but they will go a long way toward smoothing and being productive in a divisive and contentious environment.