Just recently, a friend of mine was having some difficulty in her working relationships, and wondered, was it her, or the others? I have to confess to asking myself a similar question before now. When you have repeated issues, the same or similar, in different work contexts, you do begin to wonder if it is your own behaviour that’s the issue.
Well, I think the answer is, yes and no. I know that’s not necessarily very helpful, but let me explain, using some examples.
I’ve already mentioned some of the difficult working relationships I’ve had. There was
Not yet mentioned is a difficult relationship when I was the other side of the employee/charity trustee divide, as chair of trustees for a small, nearly broke, charity. I could write a book on the issues I had to deal with there (one of these days, I might just do that). Financial, governance, operational difficulties, but underneath it all, was the running thread of the fact that at least two of the remaining three employees hated me and wanted me gone.
So no matter how easy it is to blame others for my difficulties, I have to consider how my own behaviour has contributed – is it me, after all?
One common thread is that in each of these scenarios, I couldn’t help but speak up.
I disagreed with the civil service manager on some of the decisions she wanted to take. I didn’t understand that the charity manager needed to feel in control and as though she was in charge. I didn’t understand that most of these women (and they were all women except the time I got fired) felt out of their depth and in need of an employee who would support them, not argue with them. I didn’t understand that the employees when I was a trustee were afraid that they would lose their jobs because of the financial instability.
So I said what I thought, and didn’t put myself in my adversary’s shoes. None of these people should have been my adversary. We should all have been working together to achieve our organisations’ aims.
So is it me? Am I so difficult to work with? I have admitted to not liking being told what to do.
Back to yes and no. I have to take responsibility for the way I behaved, and there are certainly times I could have acted with more sensitivity and understanding of the bigger picture, or the other side of the argument. However, life is a learning journey, and I hope I know better now, learning from all these past experiences.
On the other hand, these people, with the exception of the last example, were all my managers, had all presumably more experience than me in some respect to earn their position. It’s not unreasonable to expect managers to be good managers, to bring out the best in their staff. So in my view, it was them too. More could have been done to respect my need for autonomy, more could have been done to use my knowledge and skills to further the aims of the organisation.
But a further, more crucial point, is that the organisations could have – in fact should have – done more to support those managers to be good people managers. In the civil service, I was transferred out, and probably no help, support or coaching given to the manager to improve her skills. At the small charity project, no attempt was made to improve our working relationship, so I found another job and left. At the health charity, the trustees made me redundant, saying they had no need for my fundraising role, despite clearly still needing funds, and engaging a replacement trust fundraiser soon after. (And clinging to the belief that it was a ‘different’ job, as the one I was fired from was trust and corporate.)
So that brings me to workplace culture. What is it about the culture that believes it is best to let go of someone trained, and with good knowledge and skills, and with a great deal of commitment to the organisation? Isn’t it said that an organisation’s greatest assets are its people? So why do so many organisations not behave in ways that look after those assets? I know I’ve spoken from my personal experience here, but I’m willing to bet you have come across the same thing. If not personally, then you know someone who has.
I’ve gone on long enough, next time I’m going to look a little closer at the opposite side of the equation – firstly the time a manager surprised me by offering to deal with the situation properly , and secondly at the time when I was the employer, as a charity trustee.
In the meantime, please leave your comments below, I’d love to know what you think – do you agree the problem is at the organisational level? What experiences have you had with bullying behaviour at work?
Lindsay is the owner of Silvern Training. Before that she had a very varied working life, doing everything from admin, volunteering, sales, teaching, training, fundraising, management and chairing a board of charity trustees. Now wants to change the world of work by improving workplace cultures so that people can look forward to Monday mornings. Also likes to support individuals to speak up, be better listeners and to take action.