Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Happy Workplace

Many marriages break down not because of an excess of conflict, but because of an absence of explicit conflict.

Arguments are banished or avoided. If we allow ourselves to argue, then we are admitting, we believe, that our relationship is breaking down. We are no longer “In love.” Arguing is seen as a loss of intimacy.

The result is that grievances and irritations are not discussed. Resentment grows.

Organisations are the same.

They become afraid of raising contentious issues because we confuse having an argument, or a debate, with falling out. We like to believe that our relationships with our colleagues, staff, volunteers, trustees, are harmonious, and that if we argue then we are jeopardising that harmony.

Or we fear for ourselves. What will happen if put my head above the parapet? Will I be seen as being awkward, or a trouble-maker, or obstructive?

What reaction will I provoke amongst other members of the relevant group?

What if I’m wrong? Will I be humiliated?

The result is that difficult issues are not addressed. Instead, initiatives are not pushed forward, or are allowed to proceed even though one or more members may have identified inherent problems or flaws.

All organisations have a rich mine of opinions, viewpoints and ideas. We need to make it safe for individuals to speak out. We need to encourage dissent so that ideas can be tested or aired in the first place.

Arguments and debate should not be seen as the end of a working or social relationship. Instead, competent, responsible debate can be seen as an indication that the relationship is adequately strong and mature so as to be able to take the strain of a debate and survive intact.

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