It’s the beginning of May and all CERN staff members have now received the results of their performance appraisals.
Martina1 comes to see me, rather put out: “My boss has landed me with a “fair2”. I’ve had it now!” Martina’s especially disappointed because she thought she’d done a good job over the year. Of course, she knows some of her colleagues do more than her, but isn’t that a personal choice?
“My supervisor is getting angry more and more often: he loses his temper with us, shouts at us and throws things across the room,” Dimitri*, a CERN fellow, tells me.
CERN is a demanding place to work, particularly during critical periods such as technical stops: all hands are on deck, the tension rises and the expectations are huge. In addition, long-term and large-scale projects often pose strategic challenges that are sources of uncertainty and stress.
Frans started his career at CERN as an engineer in 1992, after having worked for about 10 years in industry in his home country. He’s an ordinary chap who has progressed regularly in his career and has survived several reorganisations.
It’s not uncommon in communication for a hidden message to take on more importance than what’s actually said.
Example: you’re a workshop technician and you’re waiting for your colleague, Tibor, to finish some welding so you can assemble a cryostat that needs to be delivered to an experiment next week. Tibor’s work has been held up by a late delivery that’s beyond his control. You’re probably going to have to make up the time yourself by working overtime. You say to him:
People often ask me: “But what can you do for us in practical terms? What actions can you take?”
In prehistoric times, there were only two ways to resolve a conflict: fight or flight. And there was always a winner and a loser. Then, one day, someone discovered a revolutionary new approach: negotiation, or aiming to find a solution that satisfies the interests of both parties. No more fight or flight, and everyone’s a winner! Unfortunately, the human brain is still programmed like it was in prehistoric times and doesn’t always have a natural negotiation reflex. This is why we have so many difficulties in dealing with conflicts.
How can we resolve a conflict?
Just this once, my article is not going to be about a specific subject. I simply wanted to take the opportunity to wish you all the very best for the New Year.
I wish you:
We’re working to increasingly busy schedules, under escalating pressure and with almost constant connectivity due to the increasing number of communication tools and applications available to us. We feel obliged to garner as many “like”s as possible and collect as many “friends” as we can. Most of us have made this permanent availability and service part of our daily lives and have adapted to it very well. But for some 15 to 20% of the population, these constant external stimuli present a real challenge.