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Is It Bullying? Is It Harassment? Is It Abuse Of Authority Or Is It Effective Management Designed To Get A Difficult Job Done?

July 29, 2010

Typically the response to these questions will be totally dependent on who you ask, their perspective and personal experience of the situation. Certainly in the situation that is currently on the CBC news about the RCMP leadership conflicts there are very different stories circulating about what is going on and who’s responsible for creating the problem(s).

So has Mr. Elliott created or contributed to a negative and toxic atmosphere in the RCMP? That is not a simple question that can be answered Yes or No – there are too many other factors that come into play that must not be ignored if the objective is to create sustainable and long-term improvements in how the organization functions.

Or is he getting the job he was hired to do done – but rattling a few chains by stirring up hornets nest in the Old Boy’s Club that is the establishment? Again, not a question with a simple answer. Jumping to either conclusion too quickly and without serious research and analysis to determine objectively what is happening risks reaching erroneous conclusions based on assumptions and not facts. The potential to escalate the situation and make it even worse than it is now cannot be overstated.

As mediators who specialize in conducting Workplace Assessments and group interventions in large complex conflicts in dysfunctional situations, we recognize the challenges in trying to sort out what is rhetoric, what is rumor and what is the actual reality of what happens on a day to day operational basis.

Any credible and effective Workplace Assessment needs to explore the infrastructure of the organization (policies, procedures, decision making structures and accountability, design and structure etc), its organizational culture and the individual and group dynamics that characterize the day to day operational reality. The patterns that show up are good indicators of areas that need further analysis and research. In other words – see a pattern? Dig there…

While the patterns related to the infrastructure of the organization are important, an even greater emphasis needs to be places on the human patterns that exist. How do people get along? What types of interactions does the organization reward? What is the leadership style? How do people describe the situation and their role in it? Are they able to see their role in the situation or do they see themselves as the misused and abused victim? Are there personal or hidden agendas that are influencing what people are saying or doing – and that may not be readily obvious?

Part of the challenge is that each of us has a vision of ourselves and who we are. We may see ourselves as competent, intelligent, honest, a capable communicator, someone who gets tough jobs done, a person with integrity or whatever our vision of ourselves may be. The problem is that others don’t necessarily share the same view. Others may see us in a very different light. For example:
- I see myself as helpful and supportive. You see me as pushy and in your face.
- I see myself as quiet and reserved. You see me as cold and withdrawn.
- I see myself as efficient and effective. You see me as uncaring and abusive.
- I see myself as friendly and outgoing. You see me as rude and obnoxious.

If I go through life believing that the rest of the world shares my vision of myself there will likely be problems. And as I make choices about how to deal with situations, I need to be aware of the how those choices may be seen by others.

Typically leaders are ‘take charge’ people. That’s how they end up in leadership positions. They tend to be dominant personalities who are solution focused and in many cases seem almost ‘driven’ to get the job done. In challenging situations, crises or tight time lines the situation is often intensified by the pressure to achieve despite the odds and so s/he strides in, takes control and in many cases bulldozes right over those around them.

When the need to get the job done predominates and takes over, the value in engaging others, building relationships or creating a team environment can get totally lost. Essentially it is perceived to be a waste of time and energy when there are more important things to get done – namely fixing the problem.

When asked, those in leadership positions will justify the choices they have made by the end results they were trying to achieve – ‘the end justifies the means’ rationale. And they are often totally oblivious to the collateral damage left in their wake. It is typically a case of ‘the axe forgets and the log remembers”.

This can create huge credibility issues for a leader as people disengage, withdraw their support and transfer their loyalty and allegiance to others they believe to be better suited to a leadership role. Or they may go into protective mode where the primary focus is self-protection, risk avoidance and trying to stay out of the line of fire.

In organizations when these dynamics are at play, the wariness, fear of repercussions, disillusionment and sense of needing to protect oneself can create a culture of passive-aggression leading to covert sabotage and resistance or when it hits the pain point where the situation is no longer tolerable, it may lead to mutiny.

How can anything positive come from a nasty situation such as this?

It is actually easier to deal with things at this level than when people are apathetic and indifferent. When the pain point is reached there is a great deal of motivation to deal with the situation and that motivation can be leveraged to create the necessary changes to improve the situation. Mutiny gets attention at all levels and that attention at the level of senior management or employers generally results in a decision that action is needed to address the situation. Resources are allocated, people are motivated to do something and providing a constructive and credible process for change is offered, the potential for a positive outcome is good.

For more information contact:
Ruth Sirman
President and Senior Mediator
CanMediate International
Phone: 613-256-3852
Cell: 613-298-8105

Click here to view our Sources Listing:

Ruth Sirman, CanMediate International Inc.


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