15 posts categorized "Harassment and Bullying"

June 2, 2019

The Workplace Seven - 7 Ways to Gain Respect in the Workplace

Behaving with respect for others and being treated with respect seems simple and common sense. In extreme situations it may be easy to identify harassment, discrimination, workplace violence, or other human rights violations which could indicate a lack of respect in the workplace. Closer to the dividing line it is not so easy to distinguish respect from a lack of respect.

Recently I worked with a team in which there were complaints that some employees were not following the “respect in the workplace policy”. I was reminded that we cannot control anyone else’s behaviour.

We can control our own behaviour and make sure our actions merit respect in the workplace.  A common example is that when we hear gossip from others we can choose not to participate and disengage politely from joining future personal chat about people who are not present. The situation got me thinking about ways to gain respect in the workplace.

 

Seven Ways to Gain Respect in the Workplace

1.  Every day that you work demonstrate your unique value as an employee.

Each employee was hired to bring their unique talents to the workplace. Just like a professional athlete you need to bring your A game to work every single day. You gain respect from peers, supervisors and customers when you consistently make your full effort to complete each task in your job. 

2.  Smile. Stay positive and focused whether it’s a time of celebration or challenge.

A warm smile will take you a long way. When you are celebrating an achievement at work of you or your company, a smile communicates the positive moment better than words. Even when you are on the phone your customers or co-workers can “hear” your smile.

It is more challenging is to keep smiling and maintain a positive attitude when things go wrong. When there is adversity, the employee who stays focussed and brings their full strength to the job gains respect.

3. Be patient with your peers and yourself.

Recognize the strengths of you and your colleagues and make allowances for the weaknesses.We are all human and none of us is perfect. Show consideration by recognizing the strengths of others and being patient with their weaknesses.   Each of your fellow employees was also hired to bring their unique skills to the workplace.

Remember to be patient and forgiving with yourself, too. Compassion for yourself is a base from which you can extend compassion for others. Sometimes we tell ourselves negative messages that we would never say to someone else. That frustration with ourselves can spill over into our communication with others.

4. Go beyond the call of duty whenever you can.

Be the person who will stay late to finish a project or cover someone else’s duties when there is an emergency. While you need to follow the basic outline of your job, your willingness to do more than is expected will be rewarded with respect from your co-workers and others in your organization.

5. Know your limits. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

This is the shadow side of number 4. While you need to collaborate and do more than is expected in your job, it must be balanced with fulfilling the basics of your job. If you accept a workload which is too heavy, you may find yourself overwhelmed and not able to accomplish what you need to do.   Set boundaries for yourself so that you are consistently able to do your best.

6.  Listen to others.

Explain your point of view with care so they can understand you.Use your active listening skills to hear others and really understand what they are saying. Then after they have been heard, they will be more willing to listen to your perspective. Take the time to explain your ideas with care so that it is easy for others to understand.

7.  Collaborate with others. Build your skills as a conflict resolver.

There may be times when you need to work with people, even people you don’t like, in other departments and other layers in your organization. Accept that conflict will happen and be ready to work on finding a collaborative resolution that will work for everyone involved.

 

Struggling with conflict? Build your conflict resolution skills this fall!

This fall join the course Fundamentals of Mediation at Munn Conflict Resolution Services in beautiful London, Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of MediationSeptember 25, 26, 27, 30, and October 1, 2019 – 5 days – 40 hours.

    • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
    • Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Click here for full details about our Mediator Education Program.

February 7, 2019

To Caucus or Not To Caucus in Mediation?

Caucus-only mediation has become increasingly popular in many mediations for business, insurance, even more personal situations such as estate and workplace disputes. Recent research shows that the caucus-only mediation approach has negative consequences.  As an experienced mediator, that research conclusion was not a surprise to me.

During a caucus, the disputing parties are in separate rooms, and the mediator moves back and forth between the rooms, communicating their negotiation messages.  When caucus is used for most or all of the mediation, the disputing parties are rarely in the same room, hardly talk with each other or may not even see each other.

Caucus is contrasted with joint session where everyone meets in the same room. Sometimes the mediation starts with a joint session where the mediator explains the guidelines of the mediation. After that the representative for each party may have an opportunity to briefly outline their party’s perspective in an opening statement. Sometimes the opening statements and even the beginning joint session are omitted and the parties spend the whole mediation in separate rooms.

Caucus-only mediation shifts power away from the people in the dispute to the mediator. This has negative consequences which wipe out much of the value that mediation can provide for the participants.

My experience over more than 22 years has shown me that mediation is more likely to resolve the conflict and more likely to result in a durable resolution, if the parties spend a high proportion of the mediation in joint session. It turns out that researchers have reached conclusions along these lines.

The report I read recently is a study of the court- connected mediation process in Maryland, published in January 2016. The study considered the effectiveness of various mediation strategies in reaching agreement. The study also measured attitudinal shifts of the participants toward each other and their belief in their ability to work together, over the short term (immediately after mediation) and longer term (3 to 6 months later).

The study found that in the short-term the greater the percentage of time participants spend in caucus, the more likely the participants are to report:

  • the mediator controlled the outcome,
  • the mediator pressured them into solutions,
  • the mediator prevented issues from coming out,
  • less satisfaction with the mediation process and outcome,
  • less satisfaction that the issues were resolved with a fair and implementable outcome,
  • increased sense of powerlessness,
  • increased belief that conflict is negative, and
  • increased desire to better understand the other participant “presumably because they did not better understand the other party as a result” of the mediation.

In the long-term, the study found that the greater the percentage of time participants spent in caucus the more the researchers observed:

  • a decrease in participants’ consideration of the other person,
  • decreased self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to talk and make a difference),
  • decreased sense that the court cares about resolving conflict from the time before the mediation to several months later, and
  • greater likelihood of the participants returning to court in the 12 months after mediation for an enforcement action.

Another finding was that the percentage of time spent in caucus had “no statistically significant impact (positive or negative) on reaching an agreement”.

Recommendations for more effective mediation:

The recommendations from the researchers were:

  • Encourage mediation “practices that focus on eliciting participants’ solutions and reflecting back to participants”.
  • Discourage mediation “strategies that are heavily focused on caucus and [mediators] offering their own solutions and opinions”.

When selecting a mediator, my recommendation is to:

  • Choose a mediator who is able to proceed with the mediation mainly in joint session using an approach which invites the participants to express their interests and ideas for solution.

My recommendations for lawyers and representatives:

  • Help your clients understand the benefits of joint sessions.
  • Help your clients accept that conflict, though uncomfortable, is better managed than avoided.
  • Help your clients develop strategies to listen  and express themselves effectively in the mediation.

My recommendation for using mostly joint sessions changes if there are special circumstances such as a safety risk which can be managed by using only caucus.

Although participants may feel more uncomfortable in joint sessions, my experience and this research confirms that avoiding the discomfort of conflict does not work as well for the participants.

While they may be able to reach an agreement using caucus, it is likely less effective for the participants in the short and long term. Mediation creates an opportunity to have the difficult conversation that is most effective for the resolution needed by the participants.

Nothing will lower your credibility faster than avoiding conflict.

–Morris Shechtman, 2003

Read the full report here.

 

Build your conflict resolution skills this spring.

Register for the Mediator Education Program at Munn Conflict Resolution Services this spring in beautiful London, Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Monday, Feb 11!

If you are considering becoming a professional mediator, our schedule gives you the opportunity to complete sufficient training to apply for the Q. Med. designation this spring.

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of Mediation – March 20, 21, 22, 25, & 26 – 5 days – 40 hours.

    • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
    • Early registration discount ends Monday, February 11 !

Course # 2 – Mediation Beyond the Basics – May 6, 7, & 8, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

Course # 3 - Advanced Mediation – June 3, 4, & 5, 2019 – 3 days – 21 hours

 

March 4, 2018

Let’s Get Serious about Stopping Sexual Harassment

It is essential for all of us to have basic knowledge of human rights law, how it applies in our workplace, and what to do if there is a complaint.   In January 2018, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario granted a female retail worker one of its largest-ever damage awards. The facts of the case illustrate how much remains to be done in educating everyone in the workplace; individuals, people leaders, those with complaints, and those who observe harassment.

The award of $200,000 was “compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” in the case B v. Joe Singer Shoes Limited.  The Tribunal found that the complainant was subjected to sexual harassment, sexual assault, racial discrimination, and a poisoned work environment.

The tribunal found that the male boss of the female complainant made fun of the complainant’s accent when speaking English, her skin colour, body, and country of origin. The boss described this as “jokes’’. The complainant was a single parent of a child with medical challenges who rented an apartment from her boss and lived above the retail store where she worked. In addition to the racist comments, the boss was found to have sexually assaulted and harassed the complainant in the workplace and in her apartment many times over the long years of her employment.

The complainant’s identity was not made public by the Tribunal and in the hearing, she was permitted to provide her evidence by video link from a separate room.

Factors considered by the Tribunal in deciding the amount of the award included the seriousness of the abuse, and that it was repeated for so many years. The complainant was vulnerable as a single parent, the sole support for her family, and as an immigrant. There was also a serious impact on the mental health of the complainant, including a diagnosis of PTSD.

In the past, the Tribunal’s general damage awards have been in the range of $20,000 to $30,000. The Tribunal has issued one other decision awarding comparable damage amounts to a complainant. In 2015 PT v Presteve Foods Ltd involved two immigrant women who experienced serious, repeated sexual harassment and were awarded $150,000 and $50,000 in damages.

Workplace sexual harassment persists in Ontario. In these recent cases, women, single parents, and people new to Canada were demonstrated to be at risk.

It remains to be seen whether these two decisions are the beginning of a new trend of higher awards by the Tribunal intended to discourage workplace sexual harassment. Is this another ripple from #MeToo?

Human rights laws are for the benefit of the whole community. From my point of view, the starting point is that everyone in the workplace needs to have basic knowledge of human rights, how to do their work within the law, and what to do if there is a complaint.

Then the next challenge is appropriate training to handle difficult conversations and manage workplace conflict to produce the work environment we want for everyone, including alignment with the values of human rights.

LAST CHANCE this spring to join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, our 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada.

June 25, 2017

Happiness in 5 Simple Steps


Would you like to be happier? The start of the summer season is a great time to bring more happiness into our lives. 

Recently I was working with people struggling in a long and complex conflict situation.  Afterwards I thought about how important it is to manage our emotional distress by shifting our focus to what we can do for ourselves to increase our happiness.

I found this distillation of ancient wisdom about happiness from the Stoics  in a recent post by Eric Barker in the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Simple steps but not easy.   Here’s a summary:

1. Events Don’t Upset You. Beliefs Do: Only the end of the world is the end of the world.

If you lose your job you might feel excited or devastated depending on your beliefs. If you believe that the job was bad for you and you will have no problem getting another job, you will feel excited by the opportunity.  If you believe that it was your perfect job and you will never be able to get another job like it, you will be devastated.  The objective event is the same, the emotion is different.

The emotion we experience is based on our belief. In Shakespeare’s words, “Nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Most of the bad feelings we have are caused by irrational beliefs. The helpful approach is to focus on those negative emotions about an event, rather than focusing on the event that we think was the cause of our negative emotions. 

Ask yourself what you believe about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”

These are irrational beliefs, and if those are your beliefs you will likely be anxious, angry or depressed.

If you revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I get fired I can get another job.   I’ve been unemployed before and I got through it.”

 2. Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest: Worrying never fixed anything.

Remember the old serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Much of what we experience as stress and worry are events over which we have no control. If we worry about getting laid off in a market downturn, our worry will not change the market downturn or the employer’s decision.  Worry is another irrational response that we need to train ourselves to leave behind for the sake of our happiness.

However if there is any part of the event that you do control, it’s better to stop worrying and take action. Improving the quality of your work so as to be as lay-off-proof as possible and looking for other job opportunities are both elements within your control.  Not only does this cut down your stress, it also means that you are spending your energy on action that will make a difference for you.

 The image with this article explains this point visually.

Image1

3.    Accept Everything. But Don’t Be Passive: Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something.

If we choose not to get upset about irrational emotional responses or worrying, what should we do? Accept things as they are and then decide what to do about them.

Acceptance is not resignation; acceptance is the opposite of denial. We may wish things were otherwise but it is irrational to deny the reality facing us. We can think, “I should not be laid off,”  but that will not change reality if we are given the pink slip.  “Should” is a very popular way of denying reality.  Denial is another irrational belief and is going to lead us to those negative emotions as in step 1. 

Instead if we accept reality we can decide what we can control, and then take action on those controllable factors, as in step 2. Maybe this lay-off is going to lead to a new opportunity which you could not imagine in the old job.

 4. Choose Whose Child You Will Be: “What would Batman do in this situation?”

Now shifting away from the reactive to the positive, take a look around and realize that you are not alone on this island. There are mentors, teachers, role models and lots of other people to learn from.

Seneca said “ We like to say that we don’t get to choose our parents, that they were given by chance – yet, we can truly choose whose children we wish to be.”

Identify a person you really admire, a person who is doing something that you would eventually like to do, including living life well. Interview them about how they were able to accomplish what they did and the steps that you could take to get to that level.

Next time you face a challenge, think of that person you admire. Research shows that asking yourself “What would _____ do?” can have powerful positive effects on your behavior.

5. Morning and Evening Rituals Are Essential: Plan for the day, then reflect on the day.

Rituals can help you recognize whether you are  improving.

Every morning think about all the negative things that will be brought to you by the people you face, try to understand why they will behave that way, and then “forgive and love them for it”.

At the end of the day reflect on what has happened and what you can improve.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” is another quote from Seneca. We all have the potential to become better.

 

One final tip:

The final tip is from Marcus Aurelius, “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

A few thousand years later, the research shows that gratitude still makes a difference to happiness. Subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

“What if I never met my partner? What if my child was never born? I am so lucky to have them in my life.”

 

Take action in 5 steps and spend this summer being happier - and grateful that you read this blog post.

 Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts September 27, 2017.

Read Eric Barker’s full post here: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/

March 3, 2017

Thinking about Thinking: Conflict and Cognitive Bias

Next time you are experiencing a difficult conflict try thinking about how you and the other person are thinking.  When I read a recent post by Buster Benson I was struck by how cognitive bias contributes enormously to my day-to-day world of resolving conflict. Understanding more about cognitive bias certainly improves our conflict resolution skills.

Recently a learner in one of my courses expressed surprise when I said most people I deal with in mediation do not lie. However often they have very different perceptions about the same situation. Frequently those perceptions develop as a result of cognitive bias.

Let’s consider an example of employees in a workplace. One feels that having their reports corrected by a colleague is harassment. The other feels that this behaviour is being helpful. Or consider the joke that one member of the team does not find funny, and feels is intended to mock her.

According to the definition in Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation from rationality, in which inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. For example, when we choose to rely on details which support our beliefs and ignore those details which do not, we are demonstrating cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, ostrich effect or post-purchase rationalization.

It takes a lot of energy to think, and then to think about how we think. Being efficient humans, for good reason we rely on the shortcuts of cognitive bias. In his post Buster Benson said:

Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy. If you look at them by the problem they’re trying to solve, it becomes a lot easier to understand why they exist, how they’re useful, and the trade-offs (and resulting mental errors) that they introduce.

Here are four problems that cognitive biases help us address and some examples of the ways they contribute to make conflict situations more difficult.

1.  Too much information.   There is so much information in the world that we need some way to filter out the majority of it. Conflict situations often include the example above of relying on details which support our beliefs and ignoring details which do not, leading to several common cognitive biases, three of which are mentioned above.

2.  Not enough meaning.   How do we make sense of all the vast information out there? In conflict situations it is common to use our cognitive biases to fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, (for example, stereotyping and bandwagon effect) and to imagine things and people we’re familiar with as better than things and people we aren’t familiar with (for example, halo effect, and in-group bias). Another common participant in conflict situations is our tendency to think we know what others are thinking. Examples of this are illusion of transparency, asymmetric insight, and spotlight effect.

3.  Need to act fast.    We have too much information, not enough time to figure it out and we need to act fast without enough time to be certain. Ever since our cave-dwelling days, standing still invites danger. A factor in many conflict situations is our need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to choose to do what is important, (for example overconfidence effect, and fundamental attribution error). Another popular area of cognitive bias which contributes to conflict is the tendency to choose what we know and preserve the way things are. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not. Examples of this are decoy effect and status quo bias.

4.  Not enough memory.  There’s too much information for us to remember much of it. What we choose to remember helps us create the filters we need for # 1 above and to fill in missing information for #2 above. It’s a self-reinforcing circle. Our tendency to edit memories after the fact is a contributor to conflict, for example, source confusion, and false memory. Another frequent contributor to conflict is our tendency to reduce facts and events to a few key elements, for example, misinformation effect and primacy effect.

 

Back to our examples of employees from the beginning. Of course the cognitive biases in action depend on the specific circumstances. The employees in a dispute about whether correcting a colleague’s report is harassment might benefit from considering how the cognitive biases of asymmetric insight and the illusion of transparency are affecting their perceptions of the situation. The team with the joke that is not shared by all might be experiencing perceptions framed by the cognitive biases of bandwagon effect and in-group bias. That group plus the one who does not find the joke funny may also be experiencing the cognitive bias of the illusion of transparency.

We need to use more logic when we think about our thinking. Simple to say and definitely not simple to do. Understanding more about how we form our perceptions, the illogical shortcuts we use and the errors those cognitive biases cause us can go a long way to helping us unravel the tangled mess of a conflict.

 Read Buster Benson’s article here.

  Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

January 30, 2017

Help! I feel powerless!

Maybe it’s something about the bleakness of winter. In the last few weeks I have had several people ask me variations of the question, “How do I negotiate when the other person has a lot more power than me?”

“When the other side seems to hold all the cards, how you negotiate is absolutely critical,” wrote Roger Fisher and William Ury in the influential book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In”.

First of all, don’t be discouraged. Your skill as an interest-based negotiator and your preparation can create the opportunity for success. 

It pays to think positively and optimistically, and at the same time realistically. There is no point wasting your time and effort trying to negotiate the impossible.  Unless you can make the other side an offer they find more attractive than what they can achieve if you are not involved, trying to get a better deal with them doesn’t make sense. The company offering a young person their first job after graduation is not going to offer the CEO job, not matter how well the grad negotiates.

Power is not static, so that one person constantly has it and the other does not. As you negotiate, the power may shift from on negotiator to the other.  That’s where your negotiation skill and careful preparation can pay off.  Just because you feel powerless is not a reason to avoid trying to change the situation.  Here are 6  tips to increase your power. 

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.     The more important this negotiation is to you, the more thoroughly you should prepare. Learn more about interest-based negotiation if you need to improve your skills. Gather and make notes of the information and ideas to achieve the next tips.
  2. Enhance your alternatives.    It may seem odd that one important source of power is to develop your alternatives to walk away from this negotiation. The stronger your alternatives without this negotiation, the more your negotiating power increases.*   You may or may not choose to inform the other side about your alternatives.
  3. Build a good working relationship with them.     This can be the most challenging and at the same time most effective step. When communication breaks down we often feel that the other person is the problem. Treat the other person with respect. Take the time to listen to them and try to understand. Help them understand your point of view. Acknowledge the emotions. Good communication is an excellent source of negotiating power.
  4. Identify their interests.    The more you understand the other person’s interests, the better you may be able to satisfy them at minimum cost to yourself. Especially when you feel that you have less power, identifying the interests that you have in common with them may be a key to them starting to appreciate your interests.  
  5. Be open to creative options.    Increase your power to influence them by inventing a way to meet their interests AND your interests. This is where your thorough understanding of their interests and your interests makes a difference. In the negotiation after you thoroughly understand each other’s interests it’s time to brainstorm with them for ideas that will meet as many of the interests as possible.
  6. Measure fairness by using external standards.    When it seems that you do not have as much power, it is particularly helpful to find standards outside of you and the other negotiator to measure fairness. For example, the new grad hoping for a job offer would be well advised to gather information about the range of pay and other benefits for this type of job in this region.

  * For more information see What is a BATNA and why do I need one?

    Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

October 2, 2016

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

February 19, 2016

Why do I Need to Know the Fundamentals of Mediation?

I need to help my team members resolve conflict between them.  I learned mediation so that I could be more effective. -  Supervisor 

An excellent course. Must be taken by managers, problem solvers and those that have responsible jobs!  - Business owner

As manager of a team that provides services to the whole organization I end up mediating conflict between other departments and my staff.   I learned the mediation skills to do this better. - Manager

An excellent opportunity to build on existing skills and interests. Encourages alternative negotiation and mediation processes which are very useful.  - Lawyer

With my mediation training, I am positioned for promotion. This was a worthwhile investment in my career.  - Administrator

Looking forward to using my new mediation skills to build a retirement business mediating in my field. - Recently retired professional

Whatever your reason is

Fundamentals of Mediation is an opportunity to build your practical skills to manage and resolve conflict.

Next course dates April 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, 2016. Early registration discount until March 4, 2016.

Click here to register.

Don`t miss this opportunity.

June 26, 2015

Avoid Temptation in Workplace Conflict

Have you heard comments like this in your workplace?

My team member doesn’t respond when I email or phone her.  I don’t feel I can count on her.

It feels like elementary school - the “in” group people just socialize with each other.

I heard them talking about me before I went in to the lunch room but no one ever told me that stuff directly.

He doesn’t talk to me but talks to the person with me.

I don’t know what I’ve done but I know they’ve put me in the doghouse.  Half the team won’t talk to me.

If you have heard – or said – these comments, your workplace is likely experiencing unresolved conflict.  Like the sore throat that lets you know you’re going to get a cold, these comments are symptoms of worse to come if they are not addressed.  And like that sore throat, it may be possible to stop the symptoms from developing into a full blown case of harassment, bullying, or toxic work environment. 

As an employee in a workplace it is tempting to think of these symptoms as someone else’s problem.  While there may be a role for management, or HR, or the union, there is also a role for each of us in improving our work environment. 

It seems simple to say that we cannot control others’ behaviour.  All we can control is our own behaviour.  Even though the concept is simple, it is very hard to avoid slipping into the thinking patterns in the comments above:  their bad behaviour made you respond in kind; you are the innocent victim; you can’t or don’t want to speak up when your dignity is violated.

These examples came to mind recently when I read “Dignity:  Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict” by Donna Hicks.   This book describes the essential role that dignity plays in resolving conflict.

In “Dignity”  Donna Hicks sets out Ten Temptations to Violate Dignity.   Her list applies whether we are thinking of conflict in a work environment or elsewhere in life.  Three temptations on her list are illustrated in those comments.

Taking the Bait” is the way Donna Hicks describes the temptation to let their bad behaviour determine our own.  The first step of avoiding this temptation is to be aware that we all have a choice.  We can choose not to take the bait, to restrain ourselves from harming others because we feel they have harmed us.  The impulse for self-protection is often unconscious and so very strong that we can find ourselves striking back before the other part of the brain analyses the situation and realizes that violating their dignity leads us into danger,  that harming them takes us into a cycle of violence which harms us in the long run. Donna Hicks wrote, “The better part of dignity is restraint.”  Yes, a person is behaving badly when they ostracize a team member, or do not respond to emails or phone requests.   Responding in kind, or escalating the bad behaviour leads us into a downward spiral and makes us part of the problem.

Being the Victim” is also on the list of Donna Hicks’ ten temptations.  If you are experiencing a troubled relationship with a co-worker, it is important to consider how you might be contributing to the problem.   Often our immediate self-preserving default mode is to see ourselves as the innocent victim.  What is more helpful is to consider how they see us.  Especially in long-standing conflict this level of self-awareness can be difficult and may be helped by a neutral outsider such as skilled human resources staff or an outside mediator.

Another of the temptations is “Avoiding Conflict.  Many of us would let the concerns expressed in the comments just slide by.  We avoid confrontation.  We say these comments to our friends but we don’t respond to the person who is violating our dignity by excluding us or gossiping about us.   

There may be times when it is wise not to respond to the person you feel has harmed you, for example  if you might lose your job.  Even if your boss is the offender, the situation is not necessarily all or nothing.  Consider your options and if you need help to do this, consult a neutral outsider.  You can choose to speak up; you can develop your alternatives (BATNA*)  in the event that the conversation does not go the way you hope and then speak up; or you can say nothing and take steps to protect your own dignity and not allow the offender to harm you.

We may not be able to avoid feeling bad when excluded or treated unfairly.  However after that we can decide how to make sense of the situation.  Even if we choose not to speak up, we can choose to recognize our own self-worth and not allow our dignity to be violated by their bad behaviour.

Don’t give into temptation.  Choose to respond to workplace conflict so that you are part of the resolution, not the problem.

*For more information about BATNA see “What is a BATNA and why do I need one?”