"Anger is a stone thrown at a wasp's nest." - American Proverb
Even on the most contented and productive campus, frictions occasionally arise. Peers may develop a disagreement over lack of cooperation or lack of respect. A rift can occur between a staff member and someone with higher authority. It might concern a performance appraisal, a deadline, a communication problem, or a policy change.
Too often, disputes fester unnecessarily. They drain the energies and creativity of the people involved and those around them. The challenge is managing our differences well through good personal and institutional responses. The university believes that the simplest, quickest and most satisfactory solution to a job-related complaint can be reached at an informal level. When you have a problem or complaint, you should talk with the person directly involved and try to resolve the issue before it develops into a serious problem.
How can you maintain your cool and search for an agreeable outcome? Here are some approaches that help:
- Show the other person that you are listening. Restate the problem by saying "It sounds as if your biggest concerns are... is that right?" The other person will appreciate that you've gotten the point. Make appropriate eye contact to show that you are listening.
- Acknowledge the other person's point of view and identify any areas of agreement. "You know, I hadn't seen it that way before. I agree that . . ."
- Be ready to accept responsibility for any of your actions that may have contributed to the dispute. "I should have kept you better informed about . . ."
Even in the face of differences, strive to show respect for other people. Your personal goal should be to contribute to solutions, not to inflame problems. Try not to:
- Interrupt the other person when he or she is speaking.
- Minimize or ignore the other person's feelings, such as "Frankly, I don't care if you are upset!"
- Make insulting, sarcastic, or stereotypical comments. "You never seem to get the point." "Gee, thanks for gracing us with your presence today." "People like you always lie."
- Shout or use inappropriate expressions or gestures. There is no need to curse, groan, or use dismissive hand motions.
- Lie about, deny, or misrepresent information. In the long run you can only lose an argument by trying to reinvent the truth.
(These ideas are drawn from materials distributed by the Office of the Ombudsman at the National Institutes of Health.)
If a direct conversation does not yield satisfactory results or if you are uncomfortable with this approach, you should consult your immediate supervisor. It is the responsibility of the immediate supervisor to settle informally most problems that come to his or her attention.
If the discussion with your supervisor does not answer your question or resolve the matter to your satisfaction, or if the supervisor is the cause of the grievance, you may discuss your complaint with the vice-president responsible for your work area or the director of human resources. At this point, the process is still informal, and human resources is involved to try and achieve a resolution.
The university acknowledges that there are situations when a discussion with the supervisor may not be appropriate or may not sufficiently address the problem. For example, when the complaint concerns unfair discrimination, the employee needs to be able to go directly to a vice-president or to the human resources department.
A complaint will be considered formal once it is submitted in writing.
Anger lies behind most workplace disputes. What causes it? The best answer we have comes from a 1999 study on workplace anger conducted by the Yale University School of Management. The researchers surveyed 1,000 adults who were employed either full- or part-time. Participants reported that the following causes made them feel angry at work:
- actions of management or a supervisor (11%)
- co-workers and other employees (9%)
- tight deadlines and heavy workloads (9%)
- others not being productive (9%)
- dealing with the public or customers (8%)
- lack of cooperation (6%)
- stupidity or ignorance (5%)
- treatment of self or others (5%)
The mere recognition of these patterns can help diffuse workplace tensions.
Singer Miriam Makeba once said, "Be careful, think about the effect of what you say. Your words should be constructive, bring people together, not pull them apart." Workplace stress and frictions are unavoidable. Our challenge is managing them well as individuals and as representatives of Wittenberg.