Attack the principle, not the person

President Obama described Mandela as a giant of history and “we can learn from him still”. A key point for me was that Mandela attacked the principle of Apartheid, not the people – i.e. not the white minority. What can we learn?

Employers need sometimes to go on the “attack”. A typical approach is the “disciplinary hearing”. A term which is not particularly helpful because it implies that some sanction is inevitable and, indeed, being called to such a hearing is a sanction in itself. The law does not help either. Unless something formal has taken place the employer cannot rely subsequently on having told the employee about their behaviour. Formal means prior notice, evidence of the unsatisfactory behaviour, right to be represented, a meeting at which minutes are taken, etc. All very adversarial.

However irrational an employee’s behaviour may appear to us on some level the behaviour is rational to them; or at least they are usually able to rationalise it to themselves.

In my view, a disciplinary hearing, needs to address the behaviour of the individual, not the person, not their personality. From the employer’s perspective the employee’s behaviour has to change, that much is adversarial. But if we can examine the underlying rationale, the principles on which the behaviour is based, then we may have a better chance of effecting that change in behaviour.

Of course this should be achievable informally. But if that is not achievable then a disciplinary hearing does concentrate the mind. By focussing on behaviour and exploring principles it should not damage the person and therefore not the on-going relationship.

By attacking a misguided principle (such a negative view about work-ethic that hinders many in the lower end of the labour market) then we should be able to bring the person on board.

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