At a recent seminar about mediation
At a recent seminar about mediation one of the presenters displayed an attitude that troubled me because it reminded me of a half-serious witticism, I heard years ago, ‘In the Human Resources profession, we sometimes view people as resources because it is easier to stab a resource in the back than a human being’. Recently, there has been talk of ‘toxic employees’. These are usually mentioned in the same breath as ‘how do I get rid of them?’ But is this a fair or even accurate description? If we are able to separate the behaviour from the person, then we might briefly be able to glimpse the human being behind the damaging behaviour. The term ‘toxic employee’ robs people of their essential humanity and it makes it a lot easier on our consciences in the heat of the moment to stick the knife in and be done with them. Yes, there are employees who seem bent on destruction. But that seminar presenter’s failure to step back and adopt a much more curious and affirming attitude is what troubled me and I wondered how widespread (and damaging) it might be.
What do such attitudes say about us as people and as professionals?
We can surely do better and must do better as we are asked to do more with fewer resources. My proposal is that whatever we call ourselves as a profession, our dominant mindset must be to view people first and foremost as resourceful humans. This is especially important when people cause us, their colleagues, and the organisation real difficulties. This is not merely playing with words. There is a serious point.
In the course of mediation, I meet many people who have in some way or another been labelled ‘a problem’.
By the time I meet them, they are – to say the least – feeling misunderstood, angry, and anxious. Most of all they are feeling greatly diminished as persons. But it does not have to be that way. I recently mediated between three women who, with a little help from me, were resourceful enough to resolve their differences. One of them gave the following feedback, “It was a therapeutic and edifying experience”. Therapy comes from the Greek ‘to heal’ and Edify from the Latin to ‘build up’. So, this wounded and diminished person found healing and affirmation. I wonder how much of her woundedness and feeling diminished contributed to her conflict with others?
My skill set is only as good as my mindset.
I try to view these ‘problem’ people as resourceful people (albeit with problems to solve). That is partly because I believe that each person is made in the image of God and is therefore of infinite value. But even if you don’t believe that, you might just consider the advice of two highly-regarded American organisational psychologists. They encourage each of us to adopt 4 working assumptions about people:
- Each person is doing the best s/he can do at the moment.
- Each person is unique.
- Individuals have a great deal in common.
- Individuals are not out to get you – it is natural for humans to co-operate, help and share.
Perhaps you feel some resistance to thinking that way.
If so, maybe take a moment to reflect on why that might be. Human resources or resourceful humans? Problem people or people with problems? It could make a world of difference to the people you work with.