Michael* comes to me with some concerns: “Carlo* has been working in my team for several years. He’s always got on very well with his colleagues and produced excellent work. But recently, I’ve noticed that he’s been interacting less with the rest of the team and he’s started not turning up for work. It’s not too alarming so far, but should I be worried?”
Maria* has fallen behind schedule on her project and meets with her supervisor Jan* to keep him informed. But the meeting sadly didn’t live up to her expectations.
Frédéric* is feeling down in the dumps: “I’ve always been good at my job and my supervisors acknowledge my excellent results. But I feel I’m being passed over in favour of colleagues who are less competent than me, but know who to approach to further their careers. Do we really have to "network" in order to get ahead? Shouldn’t my professional skills be enough?"
Of course, CERN’s success is based on technical and scientific excellence. But, like everywhere else, the human element also plays an important role.
Manuel* has been ill at ease with his supervisor Robert* for several months, but is having difficulty instigating a calm and constructive conversation about it. “Every time I try to start a discussion, I get flustered and feel like he’s manipulating me. I feel powerless; he always gets the better of me.”
Robert may, consciously or unconsciously, be using tactics to sabotage the dialogue, due to a lack of confidence, disinterest... or just having other priorities, who knows?
People can sabotage dialogue in several ways:
At CERN, every member of the personnel has the right to formally contest an administrative decision by requesting a review or by making an internal appeal. Anyone who feels that they’re a victim of harassment can initiate proceedings with the Harassment Investigation Panel.
Instead of resorting to formal proceedings, however, members of the personnel can seek the Ombud’s assistance to resolve a conflict informally.
How do you choose between the formal and informal approaches?
In an oriental fable, six blind men decide to meet an elephant in order to broaden their horizons. The first rubs up against its side and says: “This elephant is like an unmovable wall!” His neighbour feels a tusk and exclaims: “It’s so smooth and pointy; this animal is surely an impressive weapon!” One by one, the four other blind men discover the other parts of the animal: the ear, the trunk... and each experiences a different reality: a fan, a snake...
Barbara* has accepted a new role in a new service, where she hopes to have more opportunities to use her skills as an analyst. But after her first few days on the job, she’s already disillusioned, because the procedures and spreadsheets she’s taken over from her predecessor are much more complicated than she expected. To make matters worse, there’s no record of the work that’s already been done and her predecessor has left CERN.
Paul* came to see me because he’s not getting along with his colleague: “Ben* is the coordinator of the project I’m working on, but he’s doing it without really consulting any other members of the working group. He seems to work on the project from his office, by e-mails mainly. He does everything on his own and we rarely have working meetings. As someone who is keen on sharing and teamwork, I find this hard to take. I feel trapped, unable to change the situation. I’m even thinking about leaving the project.”
As 2019 gets under way, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a year full of good things:
... a lot of listening: both listening to others and being listened to yourselves;
... understanding: may you and your colleagues have the courage to express yourselves openly and respectfully, making sure you’ve understood each other’s needs;
Tomas* has spent the whole day in meetings with his industrial partners, discussing highly sensitive matters that have required him to be very diplomatic. He’s had to rein in his desire to say what he really thinks and put all his energy into arguing his case in the negotiations.