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So, you’re not getting along with a co-worker. You might find yourself bickering with him or her over mundane details…
He won’t lower his voice when he’s on sales calls, seemingly on purpose. He never seems to remember to wash his dishes or care about the cleanliness of common areas. He’s just plain obnoxious!
You’re ready to go to your manager with evidence of harassment. He’s making life harder for you at work! I mean, it must be harassment, right?
And now I beg you to ask the question of the day:
When is it a Personality Conflict and When is it Harassment?
Here’s a good example from a number of years ago:
A male teacher, who taught in the science department at a high school, alleged that two female teachers in the same department had harassed him.
When he failed to resolve things with the teachers on his own, he took matters to the school principal. The principal, according to the male teacher, was ineffective at dealing with the problem.
But there were other aspects to the case. According to the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruling, the male teacher relied upon the following “objectionable” behaviours by the female teachers to deem it harassment:
- Their teaching methods and style, alleged tardiness, and alleged lack of attention to matters of student health and safety during lab work
- Allegedly spreading gossip about another teacher (not himself)
- Declining his suggestion to meet to discuss departmental issues
- Confronting him on one occasion about his criticisms of W.R. as a teacher
- Shouting at him once to turn off the lights during a meeting
So, now let’s take a look at how Workplace Harassment is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to see if his claims warrant an intervention:
“Engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.”
The Labour Relations Board ultimately ruled that:
At best, one might conclude that there was a personality conflict between (the male teacher) and (the female teacher). That kind of problem can and should be resolvable between adult professionals. In the circumstances of this case it is quite simply not workplace harassment.
And thank goodness for that!
After all, it means that the LRB is actually determining that fully trained adults have an obligation to resolve these things internally without resorting to lengthy issues being dragged through legal hearings.
But of course, it doesn’t make things any easier. What this really means is that employees must involve themselves in what is generally termed to be a “Difficult Conversation.”
Even the most confident people find confrontation with other people a difficult thing to do.Even the most confident people find confrontation with other people a difficult thing to do. Click To Tweet
However, experience has taught us that the earlier the conversation takes place regarding the unacceptable behaviour, the easier it is to prevent the repetition of this disrespectful behaviour and to clear up what could simply be misunderstandings (like in the science department at a High School in Ontario).
And now I present to you Tips for Having that Difficult Conversation (cue the fanfare):
- First of all, thank the other person for agreeing to discuss the situation
- Speak calmly
- Explain in detail what the other person has done that offended you and provide specific examples of the behaviour
- Stay focused on how the issue is impacting you in the workplace
- State your commitment to being part of the resolution
- If the other person apologizes, accept the apology and thank them
- State your suggestion for how to resolve the situation
- Confirm the agreed-upon resolution and clarify what each of you will do to implement the resolution
- Finally, make certain that you thank the other person for their willingness to work on the change
But of course, we’re not all perfect. So here are tips on what to do if the conversation is about YOU:
- Have the conversation
- Act respectfully
- Clarify critical information if you do not understand something
- Do not argue thoughts, feelings, and perceptions
- Respect reasonable requests
- Give the other person credit for having this conversation – this is not easy!
I encourage you to give these tips a try the next time you want to run off to the Labour Relations Board…or your version of that official body in your region.