Bye Bye Bullies: How to Get People to Want to Work Conflict, Fault-Finding and Rights-Based Hierarchical Structures Are Unproductive. Such Tedious Bully Tactics No Longer Cut It

By Goldblatt, Virginia | New Zealand Management, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Bye Bye Bullies: How to Get People to Want to Work Conflict, Fault-Finding and Rights-Based Hierarchical Structures Are Unproductive. Such Tedious Bully Tactics No Longer Cut It


Goldblatt, Virginia, New Zealand Management


There is a growing awareness of transformative, as opposed to transactional, leadership and of the importance of relationships in the workplace. Indeed, research has demonstrated that people who spend time laughing with colleagues around the water cooler get more, rather than less, done in the hours of paid employment than their grim and gloomy workmates.

A culture of negativity has a detrimental effect on business outcomes as well as personal health. Research has also demonstrated the importance of discretionary effort when it comes to productivity--the "free" time an employer gets from an employee.

As Lester Levy, chief executive of the Auckland University Leadership Institute Excelerator, argued in the Sunday Star Times on 16 July 2006, regular, meaningful and informal interaction with managers can increase productivity by 40 percent and discretionary effort by 20 percent. On the other hand, conflict, fault-findingand rights-based hierarchical structures all decrease this--up to 30 percent for a negative critical performance review process, for instance.

Staff respond to this kind of environment by disengaging or increasingly, in the current economic environment of low unemployment, leaving for a job they will enjoy more. In short, it makes good business sense to have positive and productive employees.

The enemies of an engaged workplace include lack of respect, poor communication and conflict. In Resolving Conflict at Work (Jossey Bass 2005) Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith say "We pay a heavy price for conflict--in litigation, strikes, reduced productivity, poor morale, wasted time and resources, loss of important relationships, divided organisations, and reduced opportunities for learning and change. Yet many of these conflicts are either avoidable or completely unnecessary. Most arise from simple miscommunications, misunderstandings, seemingly irrelevant differences, poor choices of language, ineffective management styles, unclear roles and responsibilities, and false expectations."

Transformative leadership is about building relationships--not about how to make people work but how to make them want to work, and to work even harder.

Enlightened managers will need help with this and that is where dispute resolution professionals come in--they may well hold the key to a productive, stable and harmonious culture. They can support the transformative leader not only at the level of appropriate problem-solving related to particular difficulties that arise but also, even more significantly, by designing sound dispute resolution systems which set out to prevent conflict or identify it early before collateral damage and division are created in the business environment.

Good dispute resolution and conflict management need to be a matter of system--not just the stuff of a drop-in visit from a mediator when a problem arises. Professor Jennifer David identified the key elements of effective dispute resolution systems in a paper presented to an International Mediation Conference in Australia in 1996.

She outlined those as:

* The demonstrated commitment of the CEO and all senior managers.

* Training of all managers (and preferably all staff) in the techniques to handle disputes effectively (sometimes referred to as conflict resolution).

* The provision of adequate resources to implement and operate the system. This includes adequate staffing, facilities, equipment and training for the specialist grievance management staff as well as other staff.

* The keeping of records to ensure the system can be evaluated and to enable strategies to be identified for preventing disputes.

* Clear objectives and policy documentation to be well publicised to make the system easily accessible to all.

My own 14 years of experience in this area confirm the fundamental importance of that "demonstrated commitment" from senior executives. …

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