Self-management is an informal process that seeks to restore workplace relationships without looking for the alleged perpetrator to be disciplined in some way. It is only appropriate to try this method of conflict resolution if you feel safe to do so.

It is important that you, the complainant, remain calm and polite. This process should be seen as an assertive and objective exercise and not an opportunity to become angry and aggressive. Think about an appropriate time and place to approach the perpetrator. Raising your complaint in a space where colleagues can see and/or hear you could easily humiliate or embarrass the perpetrator and cause more conflict with the same person or others who decide to ‘take their side’.

Conflict resolution doesn’t require confrontation

Before approaching the perpetrator, you should prepare what you are going to say and practice repeating this in a tone and manner that does not encourage escalation of the situation. Remember, the goal is conflict resolution.

When raising your complaint, you should be quite specific about the perpetrator’s action or behaviour that is upsetting you. There is no need to exaggerate or colour the behaviour/action with adjectives as this is only applying your own assumptions and could cause an aggressive response. Make sure that it is clear that you are only raising an objection to the behaviour/action and not the person as an individual.

Let the perpetrator know how their behaviour or actions makes you feel, i.e. why you would like them to stop behaving or acting in this way. It may be appropriate to offer the perpetrator an alternative and more constructive (or less offensive) method of dealing with a similar situation in the future.

Finish the conversation ensuring that you have agreement from the perpetrator that they will stop behaving/acting in the manner that has upset you.

Keep your manager or HR department appraised of your attempts at conflict resolution

Let your direct manager know about this situation and your approach. (Unless it was your direct manager who was the perpetrator. In this case, speak with your manager’s supervisor or someone from HR.)

Always consult with your manager or HR department if you need support to prepare your approach or to learn more about conflict resolution or self-management techniques. If you are a manager yourself, consider the value of undergoing conflict management training so you can support your staff in making use of self-management techniques.

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Comment by Bernard Keith Althofer on August 18, 2017 at 11:24

Good advice Catherine.

From a practical point of view, when I was a Harassment Referral Officer, I found that explaining the 'handle it yourself' option the most difficult to explain to the satisfaction of the target.  The majority of targets indicated that they could not do it, would not do it and believed that another person should act on their behalf.  The reason most often raised was that the target did not feel safe, and that the person with whom they would be raising their concerns would in all likelihood respond adversely, thus increasing the level of feeling unsafe.

In some cases, the issue was less about bullying and more about communication styles and practices and I formed the view that in many of the cases, the incidence of workplace conflict would have been significantly reduced if workers at all levels had received appropriate training, not only in conflict management, but in communication.

Working in some organisations where on one hand, there is an expectation that people will work as a team, and yet on the other hand, raise issues that impact on performance, people, productivity and professionalism.  In some workplaces as I have been made aware of, some workers are 'protected' by 'management' who seem to hold a view that the person creating the conflict can do no wrong.  The person continues whiteanting fellow workers with the end result being that an increased number of workers who are not directly affected, also become involved in discussions about the behaviours.  Whilst the matter may be raised confidentially with management or a health and safety person, and is raised with the alleged offender, the alleged offender then increases their activity to target the person or persons they believe is responsible for 'speaking out'.  The behaviour continues as senior managers appear to wash their hands of continued involvement.

For some targets, raising the matter directly with the offending party is a high risk strategy, that for some may seem the appropriate course of action as they want to avoid participation in the complaints and investigations processes.  In some cases, however, the alleged offender may simply have no idea of the impact of their behaviours and will respond to a full and frank disclosure about the impact of such behaviours.

In some cases that I have been made aware over the past 20 years, some targets who have decided to take action themselves and raise the issue with the alleged offender have found that whilst the person has appeared to take on board the comments offered, they have responded adversely.  It has to a be a case by case, situation by situation approach given that all parties will be different.  As Catherine indicates, it is advisable to seek professional advice, practice a response, anticipate the response and then ensure that an appropriate environment is chosen i.e. confidential/closed doors.  I would also encourage the keeping of notes so that the manager can be advised (unless they are the alleged offender) and HR.

HR may also have some records of similar situations involving the alleged offender in which case, it may be appropriate for HR to ensure the situation is addressed at a more strategic level.

One needs to approach self management from a calm rational manner and unfortunately, when emotions are high, conflict becomes inflamed and a bad situation can turn ugly.  Sometimes it is better to take a step back, document the behaviours to be discussed, set a time to discuss the issues, and treat others with respect and dignity.

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