Addressing Harassment and Conflict is Empowering

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Dealing with conflict is part of the reality of being on a team. So is harassment.  But do we consider how leaders could make managing these issues an organizational strength?

This is how I see it: working on these issues is about empowerment.

Take harassment training: when everybody knows the rules and their rights, the level of mutual accountability throughout an organization should improve. By mutual accountability, I mean three things. First, employees should have a better sense of what their employer should be doing to protect them and to create an environment where they have the opportunity to do their best work. Second, I also apply mutual accountability to the co-worker relationship. Often, when people think about harassment, they think about being a victim of harassment rather than thinking about how their behavior could be perceived as harassment (or bullying or otherwise inappropriate). Third, my goal with harassment training is to make clear what each party, the employer, individual employee and the coworker, is responsible for to increase the sense of shared responsibility for a healthy culture.

On the other hand, there is a strong connection between harassment and conflict: harassment complaints are often preceded by unresolved conflict. Yes, addressing conflict helps reduce liability, but for me, addressing conflict is also about empowerment. Aside from the relief you get when a final decision is made, how individuals and people address conflict reveals and reinforces their values. Even the refusal to address conflict reveals a value. Employees, no matter their status within an organization, deserve to know what the organization values so that they can consciously decide whether they want to continue to work there. Leaders, in particular, need to be crystal clear about the organization’s values, especially those of the leaders senior to them because they are responsible for being aligned with those values.

Finally, harassment and conflict management help form the cultural foundation of an organization. If an organization is solid and consistent in its approach to these issues, it will be easier to build the other aspects of a healthy organization and team.

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