Today I want to talk to you about the secret to fixing a broken workplace relationship.

I know, I know, that sounds like a tall order.

But it shouldn’t be too overwhelming if we take a look at your organization’s “Respectful Conduct in the Workplace Policy.”  It might even be called a “Workplace Bullying & Harassment Policy” or some variation on that theme — It’s a good thing to have, regardless of what it’s called.  

Here in British Columbia, we recently hit the 3-year mark of having Bullying and Harassment legislation in our workplaces, and a lot of organizations are now revisiting their policies to see if there are aspects about them that can be improved. 

The biggest question that I have for an organization is: HAS IT MADE A DIFFERENCE?

That policy is designed to make a statement to everyone in your organization regarding what is tolerated, but also (and perhaps more importantly) what is definitely not tolerated.

Ultimately, how your policy performs is much more important than how well it is written.

After all, words are inexpensive, but action is priceless.

Let’s take a closer look at that policy:

Your Policy will start with a Purpose Statement that is designed to underscore the importance of the document that follows.

Here is an example:

Fiore Group Training Inc. believes that every employee has the right to a work environment where they are treated with dignity and respect, and has a responsibility to treat others the same way. 

A respectful workplace is in the best interests of Fiore Group Training, its employees, and its customers and clients.  

Fiore Group Training supports its employees in preventing discrimination and harassment, reporting and resolving conflicts early and informally if possible, and in eliminating causes of discrimination, harassment, and conflict.

These are certainly important and noble words.

But what happens when they don’t magically transform your workplace into Xanadu?

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first keep in mind that Respectful Workplace Policies are NOT meant to sterilize your workplace and turn it into a ‘no-fun’ zone.

Rather, they are designed to provide a roadmap for appropriate behaviour and eliminate the words and actions that are disrespectful. Your policy is built to provide some structure around how employees get along with each other and what they should do when they no longer do.

So, now that we know more about what’s included in our Policy, how can we use it to help mend that damaged workplace relationship?

Sonar Leadership March 01, 2017

First of all, your Policy should (must) lay out the options that are available to employees and the steps that should be taken.

One of those possible options will suggest an Informal Resolution process that will suggest engaging in a Difficult Conversation with the person whom they feel is treating them disrespectfully.

However, even the most confident of people find confrontation a difficult thing to do.

Yet, as difficult as it may be, experience has taught us that the earlier the conversation takes place, the easier it is to prevent the repetition of that disrespectful behaviour and to clear up what could simply be a misunderstanding.

In fact, when we examine the root cause of many workplace HR nightmares, they often come down to one such misunderstanding that wasn’t handled well at the beginning by the people involved.

I’m sure you’ve lost count of how many times you’ve discovered that a rift in an otherwise normal relationship was caused because of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation!

Well, let me help you out. Below are some tried and true suggestions for having that conversation, but before you leap into action, make sure that you know what you’re going to say.

Have you heard of the acronym PPE? 

It normally stands for Personal Protective Equipment, but in this case, it can also mean Plan, Practice, and Execute.

Often, when we open our mouths and then engage our brain, we say something we later regret- which usually makes the situation worse, not better. Let’s face it, we have all had those moments in our lives when it’s only after the fact that we think to ourselves, “Oooops, I should have thought about that more before I opened my mouth.”

So, make sure to prepare ahead of time what you are going to say and plan for the best possible outcome.

After all, it would be like going to the airport, going through security, and then deciding on your destination.

Here are some straight-forward ideas for how to do this:

  • Ask the person to have a sit-down conversation…not in the middle of the staff lunchroom where everyone can hear what’s being said, but in a quiet place where the two of you can chat without distractions.
  • Then, thank the other person for agreeing to discuss the situation.
  • Be calm…remember, you have planned and practiced this.
  • Explain in detail what the other person has done that offended you, and provide specific examples of the behaviour. Telling a person that they annoy you or they bug you is not specific.
  • Stay focused on the impact that the person’s behaviour is having on you in the workplace, and tell the person to stop that behaviour. The word ‘STOP’ is powerful when spoken out loud.
  • If the other person apologizes, accept the apology and thank them.
  • Provide suggestions for how to fix things – ask for their suggestions in return.
  • When you have come up with a fix, confirm what you have both committed to and clarify what each of you will do to maintain this fix in the future.
  • Finally, make certain that you sincerely thank the other person for their willingness to have this conversation with you and to work on improving the situation.

There are essentially two main points to address during this conversation:

  1. To tell the other person what they specifically have done that you find disrespectful, and
  2. To tell them to stop the behaviour.

However, both parties need to agree to have the conversation in the first place, and no one can force an employee to do so.  Yet these conversations can be highly restorative when workplace relationships have gone wrong.

But remember, if the employee feels they are not confident enough to have the conversation, or they don’t want to have the conversation, your policy will guide them to another step in the process.

After all, it’s there for a very important reason:

To provide structure.

Make sure yours does.