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….on what I would have done…

Bill e-mailed after reading last week’s blog. “It’s all very well you wittering on about problems at work, but what would you have done? How would you have sorted things?” He has a point; I was just a junior member of staff; I didn’t know what the boss knew.

So what would I have done? Well, we’d need to look behind the behaviour to see some of the motives and background. Maybe the woman with the drink problem has issues. The guy fiddling his expenses is hacked off because he’s so poorly paid. He probably feels justified in his fraud because of this. The colleague who’s rude is insecure with people; she’s an analyst and thinker, people puzzle her. The boss isn’t stepping in because he doesn’t know how to handle these people without sacking them. That prospect — and the possibility of the union getting involved in an unfair dismissal claim — scared him into doing nothing.

I don’t know that these were the motives, but they could well be, so what would I have done?

Firstly, I would offer the boss some coaching. He needs to know how to support people through problems rather than jump to the conclusion that dismissal is the only option. He also would benefit from some Enneagram teaching, to help him understand people (like the rude colleague) and then enable them to deal with patients’ relatives better. With the confidence that this coaching gives, he would be able to offer support to the colleague with the alcohol problem. She needs professional help: working for the NHS as she was, she had access to the very best.

Secondly, I would suggest to the expenses-fiddler that there is a way to earn more money – and that is to up-skill yourself and get a better grade for your job. That was and is an obvious option. Another answer is to get a promoted job somewhere else. But workplace fraud is a criminal offence.

Thirdly the team needs work — probably a series of short sessions to help them identify goals and agree on some quality standards; I would then offer some TOLAT© input, because that’s an approach which enables teams to see weaknesses without apportioning guilt and then do something about it.

Although Edward Albee stated that his play “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was about daring to face reality without illusions, it was more subtle than that. We see people acting out of anger, shame and frustration. When people are angry or ashamed or frustrated they don’t just tell the truth — they rub each other’s noses in it; they use “the truth” to hurt each other — just as they have themselves been hurt.

In the workplace, it’s not so much about telling the truth and not being afraid of Virginia Woolf, as it were; it’s more about seeing the truth from the other’s perspective and learning to treat others with the kind of respect which Albee’s characters mostly failed to do. When we understand each other a little, we are gentler with one another. And when we understand a little, from our colleagues we can also expect more than silence in the face of injustice and hurt.

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