A good leader models responsible conflict resolution.
Misunderstandings, disagreements and conflict in organisations are healthy and very common. The culture of how we resolve them is the crucial part.
The value system on how conflicts are managed is the responsibility of the leader.
She needs to model and define the rules and processes by which we will address conflicts in our organisation.
Here is a common scenario:
A staff member (the complainant) who is upset by the behaviour of a boss or a colleague (the respondent) does not bring his concern to the person causing offence. He endures several instances of the same behaviour before taking any action. He shares his upset with a trusted friend or a group of friends in the workplace. The friends inevitably support the complainant and make similar observations about the respondent and their experiences with the respondent. Fortified by group solidarity, the group of three or five staff members approaches the manager of the respondent. They demand (and receive) complete confidentiality before they discuss their complaint. They share the details of their complaint about the respondent and ask the manager not to identify them or raise the matter with the respondent. They often (and it is now a collective class-action rather than an individual complaint) state directly or imply that the situation is so serious that it is damaging the workplace and that they may have to take stress leave or even resign, or preferably the respondent should be removed.
A management-level example of this same mobbing behaviour involves private discussions between several managers (often at different levels of seniority) about the poor behaviour of a staff member. The staff member is not included in these discussions but decisions are made in relation to his or her placement elsewhere in the organisation or his or her unsuitability for promotion. This mobbing process is based on gossiping, which is any conversation about someone without that person being present.
Mobbing is a process that avoids responsibility, denies the victim natural justice and avoids effective resolution.
Understandably, people may feel vulnerable and threatened when they perceive they are being intimidated. Vulnerability is worth respecting, but that is not an excuse for non-accountability.
An effective and positive leadership approach to responsibility and accountability follows these steps:
- Politely decline to guarantee confidentiality. Explain that if the complaint proves to be factually correct then it needs to be formally addressed. If the matter proves to be a mistake or misunderstanding then it is best to resolve it openly.
- Listen to the complainant with an open mind.
- Ask if they have made the respondent aware of their concern.
- Request they do this and offer to be present if they express anxiety about that meeting. People do not have to be malicious or mischievous to be mistaken. Often it is a misplaced but genuine belief that they have been wronged and that it is unsafe to address the issue directly.
- State that there will be no recriminations allowed by them raising the issue.
- If the complainant declines to proceed, drop the matter if it is a minor complaint.
- If the complaint is serious (bullying, harassment, illegal) state you will initiate an independent assessment regardless of the complainant’s wishes.
In this way the leader treats all parties respectfully. Appropriate and evidence based assessment is undertaken and the matter can be resolved effectively.
If you would like to discuss your conflict resolution approach please contact me.