Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: October 27, 2015 - Year 13, Issue 11
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Recognize When You Are in Balance
As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold Onto Yourself Through Difficult Conversations.” Each month I have been including one excerpt per chapter – moving sequentially through the book. This month’s excerpt is from Chapter 10. We love hearing your feedback!
As we were finishing up this book, several colleagues and clients asked the following: “What tools can we use when we are in balance, and want to deepen our skills and keep ourselves there?”
That’s a great question, as sustaining and deepening your higher brain state experience gives your brain the message that it’s safe to be open, it’s safe to be loving and it’s safe to be yourself, just as you are. Conversely, the more time you spend triggered or in full-blown stress, the more easily your brain will go there and potentially get stuck in a lower set point.
The good news is, the more you can allow and enjoy the good feelings and connections emanating from a balanced state, the more you will find yourself experiencing that state, and the more you are priming your brain to go there.
There are several tools you can use to strengthen and expand the times of balance in your life. The time to practice these tools is when you are in a state of balance. When we’re in a higher brain state it is far easier to really feel our good feelings. We don’t have to fake it, or try to find them, or think about what might be good in our life. We can experience the body sensation, the presence of well-being and joy.
One tool is the simple one of mindfulness as applied to your balanced state. The starting point is to be mindful and recognize when you are actually in a balanced state. There are many moments throughout each and every day when we are all in those states. Notice those times, put your attention on your body, feel your breath, feel the good feelings in your body.
What are those good feelings? In a nutshell, look for feelings that are grateful, happy, secure, peaceful, loved and loving, healthy, relaxed, connected, supported, content, and whole.
Identify the feelings that are present in your state of balance. Feel the body sensations accompanying those feelings. Breathe.
Laurel Mellin, in Wired for Joy, calls these moments “joy points.” Rick Hanson calls this practice “soaking in the good.”
Noticing and savoring these moments seal in the neurochemistry of well-being.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts…if one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves.”
… The Buddha
2. ENVIRONMENT - A Brush with Totalitarianism
A mediation colleague and friend of mine, Brian Frank, used to talk about seeing his job as a mediator to help people make wise decisions. He has probably changed his perspective on that by now, but the phrase stayed with me.
His phrase came back to me recently as I was thinking about our federal government election in Canada last week. There have been a lot of examples of division in our country’s politics the last few years, very much an “us vs them” climate. It’s almost like the dysfunction I’ve seen in workplaces and teams was starting to happen in my own country. I can feel if a workplace or a team is healthy or not, can’t you? In a healthy team, the atmosphere feels light and the collaboration seems seamless. You want to be there. In a toxic climate, faces are surly, tension is in the air and you can’t wait to leave. I felt it on the national stage.
What do we miss when we are in the thick of dysfunction? One of the most profound losses is the loss of multiple perspectives – of pluralism – of our capacity to make wise decisions. Much like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, where each blind man holds only one part of the elephant, so sure of the truth. “An elephant is like a rope!” says one. “Oh no, it’s not! An elephant is like a fan!” “Oh no on no you are both wrong! An elephant is like a tree trunk!”
So, it goes, each perspective in direct contrast, debating and negating the other perspectives.
Yet, it is only by standing in the complexity, chaos and anxiety that multiple perspectives bring, that we can get to the truly wise decisions.
On the night of our national election last week, there was one phrase from our incoming Prime Minister that caught my ear:
“The Conservatives are not our enemies. They are our neighbours.”
This simple phrase is like a balm or an antidote to years of division. Our species has a proclivity to make enemies of “the other.” There is even a phrase for it: the development of an “in-group” or “out-group” mentality. Once we start to think of others as in the “out-group” (not one of our neighbours), this allows our brains to justify all manner of inhumane treatment.
Alfonso Montuori, in his 2004 essay “How to Make Enemies and Influence People: The Totalitarian Mindset” explores the question: “How can a pluralistic future be safeguarded from what appears to be the human tendency to get lost in a homogenized whole that must destroy human beings who are different, rather than engage them constructively?” He outlines how a totalitarian mindset is marked by the creation of “an out-group, an either-or, black-and-white logic, and a hierarchization that is expressed through subservience to leaders and punitiveness towards those viewed as ‘other.’”
It is my belief we were going down that road here in Canada. We were going more deeply into the politics of fear and division. That is fertile ground for simple solutions, enemy-making and a totalitarian mindset.
This is why, on the night of the election, the new federal leader’s words rang so clarion to me. Seeing any “other” as one’s neighbour creates the context for everyone to be in the in-group. This isn’t being “Pollyanna” – such remarks impact our animal brain’s emotions. Being in the in-group allows our emotional selves to bring in more perspectives, and thereby a richness of solutions.
One of the first actions of the new federal leader in the last week was to invite the head of the Green Party to be part of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations summit on climate change in Paris at the end of next month. He is also inviting the leaders of the two main opposition parties and the premiers of all the provinces and territories.
It is not so much the leader I want to point our attention to. It is the message. Inclusivity and collaborative values need to be the foundation upon which politics rests. Politics are, after all, the way we make community-decisions and so impacts every part of our lives - including our environment.
“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.”
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3. NEGOTIATION - Investigations in the Workplace ~ A Double-Edged Sword
Here in British Columbia we have legislation, guidelines and policies designed to protect workers from workplace bullying and harassment. Employers now have a legal obligation to prevent and address workplace bullying and harassment.
The good news is, if there are “bad behaviours” at work, employers now have to respond. I know of employees who have rejoiced because they now have some kind of recourse to try to address the yelling, threats or malicious gossip that have been tolerated in far too many workplaces.
The bad news is, the way allegations of bullying and harassment are being responded to have brought, like any systems change, some unintended consequences to many workplaces.
Presently, WorkSafeBC (WSBC), in their Investigation Guide, say: “Employers must develop and implement procedures for dealing with incidents or complaints of workplace bullying and harassment, including how and when investigations will be conducted.” (Investigations Guide, WSBC).
One challenge is that, in my experience, most managers are not equipped to be doing “investigations.” Even though the WSBC guide goes on to share tips such as “be fair and impartial” and “be sensitive to the interests of all the parties” and “be focused on finding facts”.
I know how difficult it is to realize those intentions and behaviours. I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of very competent professionals come through the various Centres, Universities and workshops I’ve helped deliver over the last 2 decades, and most would have trouble being truly impartial, sensitive, focused on “interests” and focused on facts. It’s a challenging expectation even under the best of circumstances. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it reads.
In addition, it is very hard to be fair and impartial – or even to be perceived as fair and impartial - when you, as the manager, are part of the system.
Other tips in the Investigation Guide suggest the employer look for “evidence” and for “witnesses” – which can easily create a litigious and punitive orientation in the workplace, when sometimes all that is needed is for a manager to have a follow up conversation with one or more parties.
Using the term “investigation” is part of the problem. This term quickly conjures up late night police rooms, bright interrogation lights and no access to water, bread, a phone or a lawyer.
I’m being a bit facetious, but the workplace is sacred ground and people are sensitive. The workplace is where people spend most of their day. The workplace is where people get their needs met for things like status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and even fairness (David Rock). In addition, the workplace enables most of us to live the lifestyle we are accustomed to.
These are high stakes. This isn’t someone stubbing a toe and requiring an investigation to determine which machine to fix. These are people’s lives WSBC is asking leaders to investigate, produce evidence of wrong-doing for and find witnesses to testify against each other.
While mangers, leaders and employers may want, and need, to meet their WSBC obligations to address bullying and harassment, doing so by starting with an “investigation” can often make matters worse. Much worse.
Investigations in the workplace can create defensiveness, denial, secrecy, suspicion, more miscommunication and much, much more stress. I’ve seen it. Many of my colleagues have seen it. Many of my peers in other professions have seen it. Investigations can really inadvertently damage a workplace.
Have you ever been in a situation where your boss wanted to have “the talk”? Imagine if you don’t even know what the talk is going to be about. Then you have the talk, and you’re not sure what your boss is saying – it seems to be code: “You did this to this person on such and such a date.” You are not remembering what date this is referring to. Your stress levels are rising to astronomical proportions. What does this all mean? Am I going to get fired? Should I be asking for union representation? What about a lawyer? You don’t even have your calendar for the day in question in front of you – or if you do, it just lists a series of meetings. “There are witnesses.”
If this sounds like a nightmare, it is. I wish I could say this has only happened to one person, but I know it’s happened to many. Our brains remember events that had an intense emotional jolt attached to them. Sometimes what seemed important to one person did not register with the same intensity for another. So, while an event might seem like an obvious infraction to one person, it’s often not to the other.
WSBC has worked diligently to try to help leaders in the workplace –but conflict is complex and often a symptom of a myriad of workplace issues.
It could be that one person has been labeled a “bully” as an aggressive move by another person who has also displayed bad behaviours. It could be that there have not been any staff meetings in years, no place to air grievances, no way to address team issues. It could be that the culture of the team has been toxic for decades and these behaviours are calls for help to shift the culture. It could be the leader has not been able to set limits, is overwhelmed and needs support to strengthen his/her assertiveness and limit-setting skills. It could be that the department doesn’t have the proper budget to fund the unit, so everyone is chronically short-staffed and stressed but one person will now be seen as the problem to be fixed. It could be that the one person has never brought up any of the issues directly with the other party. It could be the situations are described with such generalities that it is difficult to understand what has even occurred.
I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.
What is the solution?
Firstly, although this particular approach to workplace bullying and harassment is new to BC, leaders around the world are faced daily with complaints and conflicts, and all are in need of a constructive response to conflict.
In BC, the ideal solution would be for there to be a revision to the WSBC guidelines for how employers are expected to respond to incidents of bullying and harassment. Expecting managers and employers to respond with investigations is heavy-handed and often destructive response.
Since this is still a fairly new process, WSBC is still asking for feedback and suggest you send it to: email@example.com. Please do take a few moments to offer them some of your experiences.
Overall, the ideal solution is to respond to workplace conflict using a restorative lens. Chantal Beaudry conducted an extensive literature review for her Masters thesis on “Workplace Bullying and Harassment: Exploring Promising Interventions” and concluded that “restorative intervention practices offer an opportunity to address the needs of individuals, the group and the organization.”
A restorative approach to justice is described by the International Institute of Resotrative Practices as “a process whereby those most directly affected by wrongdoing come together to determine what needs to be done to repair the harm and prevent a reoccurrence.”
Justice then – what needs to be done to bring the workplace back to harmony – is determined not by the leader but by all those most directly affected.
Such an approach would look at a complaint of bullying and harassment as a symptom of underlying dysfunction in the workplace in need of a thoughtful response and assessment to decide on which course of action might be best. The first step for employers and leaders would be to start with such an “audit” or “review” or “assessment” instead of an investigation in every situation. Beaudry also found in her study that “assessing the situation is critical.”
People do need to be communicated with, but separate interviews, more secrets and then a report might not be what they need. There might be a need for some assertiveness training or conflict coaching. Perhaps there needs to be leadership training or a Workplace Conference or Circle or a regular team communication process put in place. Workplace mediators in this province have a lot to say about what works and doesn’t. Ask them.
In the meantime, the WSBC Bullying & Harassment Investigation Guide does say:
“An investigation into a bullying and harassment matter usually follows a consistent or standard process… This being said, employers are free to develop and follow their own investigation process — as long as it is a reasonable process that meets all legal obligations for dealing with incidents or complaints of workplace bullying and harassment.”
Although more onerous for individual employers to do than the standard forms WSBC provides, it is possible to take a more holistic approach to workplace bullying and harassment.
“Restorative justice is not simply a way of reforming the criminal justice system; it is a way of transforming the entire legal system, our family lives, our conduct in the workplace, our practice of politics. Its vision is of a holistic change in the way we do justice in the world.”
… John Braithwaite
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training