By Frank T. Scruggs The Afro News International
Organizational expert Andrew DuBrin has indicated that conflict can be good for an organization; in the right amounts. Companies therefore need to confront perceptions of racism; rather ignore or pretend it doesn’t happen. The issue of racism and its influence on how black people approach conflict resolution is an issue that still remains in need of further investigation (as in all accounts of perceived racism). Harold Saunders, a conflict management expert, when recounting one of the annual community breakfasts in Baton Rouge, LA., recalled one particular incident.
The convener asked members of the mixed audience to check their individual reaction to the word, racism. She said: That reaction, she said, would be their answer on the value of talking about the subject, she revealed that if your bodies sensed any form of discomfort, i.e. anger, tension, fear—when hearing the word racism then that was a sign that racism was worth exploring. When quoting the convener of the breakfast, Saunders said: She stated that racism is often treated as a civic concern in much the same way as child abuse…people cringe. People can avoid it [the term racism]. People also lack understanding about it. Some people hide it. People can only heal if they talk about it.
While the perception that race and racism are still present and prevalently exists in Corporate America as a form of structured, hidden violence and as white privilege; the corporate workplace also is a place of psychological distance which can also serve as an impediment to effective resolution of workplace disputes.
Psychological distance may be defined as the behavior that results within a corporate culture when workers do not feel they are part of the organization and when they hold the perception that their needs are not being met. Therefore a reasonable assumption might be made that in the case of African Americans in Corporate America many would feel a sense of psychological distance from the organization. This psychological distance can wreak havoc in the workplace and exacerbate conflicts. Bullying also creates havoc in a workplace.
In a recent research study on workplace bullying conducted by S. Fox and L.E. Stallworth found that racial/ethnic bullying had been experienced by 97% of the 262 participants surveyed. In their study participants reported being bullied more by supervisors than by co-workers. The researchers also found that when bullies were supervisors, there were associated increases in negative emotional and attitudinal responses of victims and decreased trust in the ability of the organization to deal effectively with bullying were substantial. Overall, the effects of workplace bullying can be quite disempowering and may result in loss of dignity and self-esteem. Finding solace from such behavior may prove to be difficult for anyone bullied and as one participant in the study added, if you work or a racist and his boss is a racist, you are doomed. While bullying is something entirely different and has no place in any workplace, conflict will frequently occur.
Author and Mediator Christopher Moore has identified for mediators, managers and other interested people, four stages that may be employed to overcome the barriers of misperceptions and stereotyping:
1) Identify the perceptions held by the parties involved,
2) Assess whether or not the perceptions appear accurate or inaccurate,
3) Assess whether or not the perceptions are hindering or furthering a production substantive, procedural or emotional settlement and
4) Assist the parties in revising their perception of other disputants when they have characterized the other disputants with stereotypes or other image distortions and in minimizing the negative impacts of such misperceptions.
During a conflict situation in the workplace, for black managers and others, understand that misperception and stereotyping will also occur. When a mediator or a manager can negotiate between conflicting parties, then progress towards resolution becomes possible. Let’s make our workplaces someplace we want to spend time at and practice real conflict management. Ask your human resources officer or personnel manager how to get a program started if a formal program is not already in place. If one exists ask how you can participate. Keep the conversation going and include me if you like. I’m athttp:// firstname.lastname@example.org