I have a magic potion that I would like to share with you. It has served me well for the last twenty years and, I believe, helped many people minimize or avoid conflict, stay out of the human resources office and enjoy their work more. Rather than come straight out and tell you what it is (because that would be no fun), I’m going to first share three examples with you. Make no mistake, this secret solution has been the most successful tool I have used throughout my Ombuds career and I am certain it can help others.

Example #1:

Jose’s employee Sharon is 20 minutes late to work today. Jose is furious with her because she was supposed to provide the Power Point file for an important presentation to the head of the institution later that morning. Jose sends her a very angry email telling her that he is docking her three hours of vacation time due to her tardiness.

Example #2:

Rebecca is a new employee attending her first office holiday party. It is well known to her team that Rebecca’s faith is very important to her and she adheres to a strict vegan diet.  Rebecca arrives at the gathering soon after it starts and happily heads straight to the buffet.  Her mood quickly changes when she realizes the only food being served are beef tacos and pork enchiladas. Rebecca assumes this food selection is intentional and meant to shame her. She races out of the room and runs straight to HR claiming discrimination and harassment.

Example #3:

Edgar rushes into Tanya’s office screaming “You better fire Larry. He just punched me in the nose and I think he broke it.” Tanya sees that Edgar’s nose is bleeding badly. He calls Larry into her office and terminates him immediately. Two-armed security guards escort Larry off the premises.

Noticing any theme with these three scenarios? Hopefully, seeing them all together, it’s pretty easy to see where my magic potion might come in handy. Let’s now add a little more information to the stories and see if anything changes for you:

Example #1:

Jose’s employee Sharon is 20 minutes late to work today. Jose is furious with her because she was supposed to provide the Power Point for an important presentation to the head of the institution later that morning. Jose sends her a very angry email telling her that he is docking her three hours of vacation time due to her tardiness. Sharon was indeed 20 minutes late to work. She had run into the CEO in the parking lot that morning and decided to take advantage of the opportunity while the two were walking into the building together. Sharon shared everything that was included in the Power Point presentation with the CEO, answered some questions, alleviated his concerns about the budget and left him excited about their upcoming meeting. She waved goodbye to him as she walked off the elevator and entered her office.

Example #2:

Rebecca is a new employee attending her first office holiday party. It is well known to her team that Rebecca’s faith is very important to her and she adheres to a strict vegan diet.  Rebecca arrives at the gathering soon after it starts and happily heads straight to the buffet.  Her mood quickly changes when she realizes the only food being served are beef tacos and pork enchiladas. Rebecca assumes this food selection is intentional and meant to shame her. She races out of the room and runs straight to HR claiming discrimination and harassment. Ten minutes prior to the party even starting, Dominic was anxiously waiting downstairs for the delivery truck to show up. “I can’t believe the restaurant messed up this order so badly! I’m glad others noticed this mistake. I specifically requested vegan tacos – I even have the receipt to prove it.” Nearly 30 minutes later the food arrives and Dominic rushes into the conference room loudly singing “Here I’ve come to save the day!!!”. He is greeted with silence and disbelief.

Example #3:

 Edgar rushes into Tanya’s office screaming “You better fire Larry. He just punched me in the nose and I think he broke it.” Tanya sees that Edgar’s nose is bleeding badly. He calls Larry into her office and terminates him immediately. Two-armed security guards escort Larry off the premises. Larry did indeed break Edgar’s nose. Larry had been walking down a normally unused hallway when he heard a muffled noise in a room which had been vacant for quite some time. Curious, Larry peaked into the lab unannounced and saw Edgar forcing himself on a young lab assistant, Larry rushed in, punched Edgar right in the face and watched while Larry squirmed out of the room. The next few minutes Larry spent trying to comfort the woman. He called her boyfriend and waited for him to arrive. Larry was just about ready to call the police when his phone rang and Tanya told him to come up to her office right away. “Thank goodness,” he thought, “Someone must have told Tanya what happened. She’ll take care of everything.”

And now you know the rest of the story which, is also, my magic potion. In each of these examples everything could have been resolved more prudently had the individuals just taken the time to gather information from all the parties rather than rushing to judgment. Had Jose checked in with Sharon prior to docking her vacation time, he probably would have considered promoting her or at least recognizing how lucky he is to have her as an employee. And rather than rushing to an inaccurate conclusion, Rebecca could have asked a number of people at the party about the food choices. Lastly, had Tanya taken the time to hear Larry’s side of the story, she might have selected him as Employee of the Month rather than fire him.

Yes, it can be time consuming to hear all sides of the stories but there is no doubt in my mind that in all instances it is worth the time, energy and effort to reach out to the primary players and gather all the appropriate information. Benefits to hearing out the other person(s) before rushing to judgment include:

·       Filling in the holes with facts rather than rumors or assumptions

·       Building trust amongst the individuals involved in the situation as well as bystanders

·       Minimizing conflict

·       Providing appropriate next steps

·       Creating a safe (mentally, emotionally & physically) environment for all

·       Lessening unnecessary HR involvement

·       Decreasing litigation

·       Decreasing loss of good employees who no longer feel valued and/or appreciated at work For another way to look at how to find the entire story, check out one of our past blog entries.

By Melissa Connell, Ombuds Director, University of Colorado Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus