Our third assessment is the motivational or
functional inquiry. Once we establish a common
understanding about the nature and context of
disquieting behaviors in a manner that limits defensiveness, let’s invite introspection about the factors
that may influence the behaviors. Is a supervisor feeling overwhelmed, under pressure, fearful, insecure?
Does s/he have the skills and tools to encourage and motivate staff without yelling, belittling, or
threatening? Is a colleague overly zealous, competitive, pursuing or demonstrating power? Is a socially
awkward employee actually seeking connection,
but unaware that bad jokes are offensive? Is a challenging situation at home causing stress or loss of
The motivational assessment informs our choice of
interventions with individual, dyad, team, department,
or organization; with offender, targeted employee,
bystander, or leadership. Ours is a vast repertoire:
coaching, team or leadership facilitation, mediation, and more. I’m a fan of judicious and thoughtful
facilitated conversation between the participants,
including clarifying of work and relationship expectations and solidification of understanding and even
Yes, I refused your last request for out-of-town training because I didn’t see
train-the-trainer follow-up from your
two previous workshops; yes; I see that
clarifying that expectation with you
beforehand would have prevented this
misunderstanding; I’m open to plan
together a time to try again.
Freed from the constraints of fitting a distressful
behavior into the tight box of policy definition, we have
the luxury to address tough supervision, microman-agement, overly zealous colleagues, “unreasonable
workload” or “constant and unreasonable criticism,”
and any work relationship or behavior that does not
contribute to a respectful work environment.
Of course we’ll always have some people who
gets a kick from exploiting others, whose desk
plaque that says “when I say ‘jump’, you ask ‘how
high’” is no joke who are unlikely to change and
whose redemption is completely outside our scope.
I believe that those at the forefront of the work-
place anti-bullying movement, in good faith, started
out by taking on the truly abusive workplace situ-
ations, those akin to domestic abuse. Consider: if
we’d stick with “abuse” as the differentiating term,
would we have fewer “wastebasket” issues? Or are
we already too entrenched in diluted definitions?
Here’s another opportunity for conflict resolu-
tion professionals to subtly change the discourse.
But as my favorite cartoon character Pogo used to
say, we’d still be “confronted with insurmountable
opportunities,” those being the wide and gray range
of interpersonal behaviors that hurt, are misunder-
stood, or distract the organization from its mission
and productivity and its people from creating a cul-
ture of respect.
Conflict resolution professionals are a courageous, creative, and optimistic bunch, never shy of
a challenge. After all, we purposely put ourselves in
the middle of conflict. So let us fully embrace these
“insurmountable opportunities.” Let’s reinforce language that treats everyone with respect–even the
“bully”–and vow to neither vilify, vindicate, nor mollify the targeted employee, offender, or bystander.
Let’s enhance awareness of those who avoid action
through perseverating upon labels, laws, and legislation. Adding to our toolbox the instruments of
behavioral, situational, and motivational inquiry, let’s
employ these powerful questions – and the power of
our profession - to encourage reflection, awareness
and perspective in a context that empowers responsibility, compassion, change and action. Let’s guide
organizations and their people to rebuild direct and
Because where respect exists, bullying cannot. n
The author invites readers to continue the conversation. For a discussion regarding the controversial
issue of mediation as an intervention into workplace
bullying, please see her article in the September issue
of the ACR Workplace Reporter, Mediators Never
Wear Red: Is mediation ever an appropriate intervention into workplace bullying, or might we just as well
wave a red cape in front of a raging bull?
Conflict resolution professionals are a courageous,
creative, and optimistic bunch, never shy of a challenge.