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Friday, January 21, 2011

Fairness in Difficult Relationship Outcomes

Incident management in the business world has a philosophy of fair discipline for those involved in accidents called the Just Culture model. This model can be just as easily applied to interpersonal relationships. It offers fairness by gauging the intent of action before considering the consequences, if any, for behaviour unbecoming. It’s about asking four key questions:

1. Were the Actions as Intended?

This question is vital. If someone’s made an innocent mistake how can they be disciplined for it? Too often people are castigated when they were victims of the circumstance they were placed in. Even if someone intended to do something it doesn’t mean they intended to achieve the result they did.

But if the negative action was intended, and the result of the action was intended, then it’s pretty academic—there’s due cause to consider ‘disciplinary’ action.

2. Was the Way of Doing Things Knowingly Violated?

As above, this is a dual-edged sword. Even if a person skirts around the proper way of doing things their intent is not always heinous. Sometimes the way of doing things is not working, or perhaps there was just good reason to do it differently this time in the mind of the person affected.

But, again, if the way of doing things was clear and workable there’s probably some malicious intent—or improper motivation—that requires attention.

And what if there was no poor intent whatsoever?

3. Would Someone Else (“Mr. or Miss Equivalent”) Have Done the Same Thing?

This is always a good question to ask in terms of fairness. Sometimes as we substitute the affected person for someone else equivalent we find the same result is predictable. In other words, we should have known this and compensated for it already. It could be a ‘no blame’ error.

But if we find that another equivalent person wouldn’t have done the same thing then we have either laziness or a competence gap to correct—again, it comes down to intention; the former is intentional whilst the latter isn’t.

4. Is There a History of Skirting the Way of Things?

Some people are more prone to taking shortcuts or disobeying than others. Shortcuts and disobedience reveal a lack of patience and diligence. These sorts of issues need to be nipped at the bud because they’re going to catch us out sooner or later.

What’s the Gap – Training or Management?

Whatever’s the real problem it can be fixed by either coaching the person involved technically or disciplining via performance coaching—trying to get to the heart of ‘why the improper intent?’

The whole model revolves around intent.

When it comes to relationships, we should honour the pure intent and scold—in an adult fashion—the vexatious intent. Call it tough love, for that’s what it is. It takes a discerning eye to discover the motives of people, and to manage relationships effectively requires melding the patience of coaching with the courage to fairly but firmly discipline those who have knowingly stepped out of line.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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