Conversations with supervisors going wrong

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Conversations with supervisors going wrong

QUESTION: “I’ve seen conversations with supervisors in the room result in the person raising issues getting in trouble for having an opinion. How might you advise us in this situation?”

ANSWER: That’s another indicator that either that unit or the whole organization is low on the MCOD model.  So, if you’re early in organizational change, you may want to be talking to HR, , employee relations – any of those type of folks about, “I’m about to do this training, how can we work together so that if people do share about current dynamics, they will not face retaliation”.

While you’re having those conversations, also ask/clarify, what are the resources in the organization/local community where you can send people who might have need for more conversation; especially confidential conversation.  I may think I am doing a foundational equity &inclusion training talking about social justice in organizations. But often people come with real situations that are either harassment, or close to harassment dynamics with another co-worker or supervisor that clearly crosses the line and a supervisor is not addressing it. What are the resources that you can recommend, put in my handout, so that people have another place to turn.

So, make sure you personally know, and then proactively ask HR and top leaders, “What do I do if someone says, I was at a workshop, and then my supervisor called me in and confronted me for sharing our dirty laundry and I think that’s impacted my career here.”

I don’t have easy answers because these dynamics happen in every organization that I’ve been in. I have found the further along the organization is in the MCOD model, the less tolerance for harassment & retaliation fr people speaking their truth to power.

Sometimes a participant shares their perspective and the situation is more complex. In these cases, it may be useful to have follow-up conversations to help disentangle difficult situations that get talked about in the headline in a workshop. So, that could be something else you anticipate and discuss in advance with HR and top leaders.

If you have a training organization development arm of HR, I might suggest further conversations such as, “What are the resources that if I hear or someone says, ‘my unit could use some third-party intervention’, do you come in and do that?”

You can also ask:

  • Can you give me some names of resources or places for me to send them?
  • Does the organization have a plan/strategy for mediation and restorative work?

If I’d thought this way thirty years ago it would have helped me be much more confident when I was doing these trainings in an organization or as a consultant, but these are the kind of questions I now know to ask beforehand.

Take a deep breath. I’m still holding on to this retaliation thing, it just pisses me off because it’s often white leader to folks of color, or male leaders to female identified person, heterosexual leaders to LGB & transgender folk leaders.

So, if you’re concerned this is happening in your organization you may want to have pre-conversations with your leader and other leaders to say,

  • “How can we create an environment where people can learn, get a sense of belonging, talk honestly about what dynamics are happening so that we can think about how to intervene and not face retaliation?”
  • “What is our process if an employee feels they’ve been retaliated against for speaking up in a session?” And ask the leaders beforehand so the ones that are close to doing it, they may not do it as much, but most organizations probably don’t have a clear practice and policy. So, at least have the conversation and ask, “Do we want to have this be a policy?”

Comment in the Chat: “I’m actually leaving a job because of retaliation. There are no laws to protect us.” Take a deep breath because there’s probably fewer laws and practices in these last two years since November 2016. AND, I believe all the training that so many thousands of people have been doing in the last fifteen, thirty, fifty years has gotten our country to the place where we can have an election like yesterday and, we still have a very long way to go.

I believe the training and awareness building we do is critical, even more so through this conversation.  And it’s just one piece of a huge puzzle to have true organizational change where we attract, retain, develop, and promote top talent across the full breadth of differences who demonstrate the breadth of cultural competencies needed in our organizations.

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