Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Case Study from Prof.M.S.Rao - "‘I Am The Boss’ & ‘So What?’"


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus on the hidden data of communication such as human feelings, egos and emotions at the workplace resulting into conflicts. It emphasizes the need for independent thinking, (i.e. avoid being instigated by others) and also on the active listening skills that can minimize conflicts. It also outlines the need to separate personal emotions from professional activities.

Design/methodology/approach – It provides a detailed case study in an organization where Susan has the attitude of ‘I am the boss’ and Ron has the attitude of ‘So what?’ resulting into conflict in the workplace.

Findings – The case study highlights the need to communicate with each other rather than developing filters in their minds. Those who work in organizations should not act under the influence of others and they should not misuse their official authority. It concludes that those who are in superior position should open up their minds and set the process of dialogue before taking any extreme action such as humiliating or silencing their subordinates. It provides a few takeaways for working executives to prevent conflicts based on human emotions and feelings.

Research limitations/implications – It outlines the analysis and interpretation of the author. It presents several solutions by looking at the issue from multiple perspectives. It helps the readers to develop their thinking, analytical and creative skills.

Originality/value – The main contribution of this case study is to add value by narrating the incident sequentially thereby creating curiosity among the readers. It provides new perspectives and the real reasons for conflicts at the workplace.

Keywords: Communication and conflict, Conflict management, Hidden data of communication, Personal and psychological conflict, Workplace relations.

Target audience: HR professionals, Researchers, General Managers, Academics, Students and Consultants.

Article Type: Case Study.

Word count: 2430


“Never look who is right and wrong. Always look what is right and wrong.” – Prof.M.S.Rao, Corporate Trainer in Leadership Development.

When you look at individuals there will be involvement of egos and emotions. In contrast, when you look at the issues there will be no individual preferences and prejudices. Better judgment prevails.

Susan was working in a multinational company in India as a Human Resource (HR) Manager. Her role was to recruit the candidates for the company and to ensure smooth functioning of office administration. She was a smart worker and built reputation for herself from superiors for the last five years. The top management also respected and consulted her on crucial decisions. She did not talk to anyone unnecessarily at the work place and she meant business. She was 32 years old. She was bold and beautiful. She was polite and well mannered. She was a woman with strong character. But she was stubborn by nature. However, it was rumored within the organization that she was divorced by her husband because of arrogance and stubbornness.

Ron joined in the same company who was hard working and was yet to prove his abilities and establish his credentials. Before joining this organization, he had 18 years of industry experience in several companies and he was 39 years old. As per the rules of the company, Ron had to work with Susan initially for some period. He was a hard worker and rose from ranks. He learnt bitter lessons in his life and knew the value of life. But he was adamant by nature. Both Ron and Susan respected each other and had been working together.

Susan was introvert, by nature, and rarely mingled with other employees. At the same time, she never kept ill will against anybody. She was a principled woman with worldly experience. She was combination of education, intellect and beauty with grace which was a rare combination for any woman. She was good at heart and helpful. Seeing the close and cordial relations between Susan and Ron, a few people working in the office felt jealousy. Since Susan rarely socialized with others and her cordial relations with Ron upset a few of their colleagues especially two female colleagues - Ann and Beth.

Ron also never socialized with anyone as he believed in his office work although he was an extrovert by nature. Ron initially moved closely with a colleague by name John. But John started speaking ill of Susan to Ron which Ron did not appreciate. John said that Susan was a divorcee and her husband divorced because of her arrogance. He also said that Susan was a woman of weak character. Gradually Ron distanced himself away from John who tried to settle his scores with Susan as they worked together in the past on a project. Ron was basically an independent thinker and never paid attention to such negative comments and he followed his heart rather than looking things from the mind of others. Ron did not appreciate negative things being talked by John against Susan whom he respected from the core of his heart.

Ron’s gelling with Susan cordially upset a few and especially two female colleagues Ann and Beth. They tried to create rift between them by talking ill of Susan with Ron. Ron never liked to entertain negative people and was totally against office politics. Since their strategy failed to work, they attempted to poison the mind of Susan who initially resisted the same. Gradually Susan stopped talking to Ron and the latter did not know the reasons but Ron sensed some problem. However, he interacted with Susan in the same way to keep the things going on smoothly. Since Susan began neglecting Ron, he also began concentrating on work and avoided Susan totally except whenever there was need for official interaction and communication.

In fact, Susan touched the subconscious mind of Ron. As a result, Ron began thinking about Susan oftenly and deeply. Ron was not able to concentrate on his work properly. At heart, Ron was thankful to Susan as she helped him to groove within the system. He developed admiration towards her but never revealed to others at the workplace even to Susan. In brief, Susan touched the heart of Ron.

One day, Susan told Ron to collect resumes from the candidates who came in for walk-in interview. Ron got up from his cubicle and asked her whether to hand over the same to Senior Manager - Rick. She said, “Yes”. Ron was energetic by nature; he rushed immediately to get the resumes and collected from the candidates. Subsequently, Ron rushed to the Senior Manager and handed over the resumes and had conversation with him for some time and came out from the room.

Susan who was waiting outside the Senior Manager’s cabin took Ron to nearby room with anger and shouted at him. Both had heated conversation for some time which is mentioned below:

Susan questioned Ron, “Who told you to hand over the resumes to Senior Manager?”

Ron replied, “When I asked you, you told me to hand over to Senior Manager. Therefore, I handed over to him.”

Susan shouted, “You rushed inside the room. But I told you to hand over to Jim.”

Ron said, “You told me to hand over to Senior Manager. Therefore, I handed over to Rick.” And he added, “Why do you make it a big issue?”

Susan shouted, “You did not listen properly and your behavior is not good”.

Ron did not want to hurt her and asked, “Ok! Tell me, in which way my behavior is bad? I will change my behavior.” He added further, “You keep something else in your mind and talk something else outside. I don’t like this. I am straightforward. I respect you a lot from the core of my heart. But every time, you listen to negative people and rush to wrong conclusions about me.”

Susan said, “Stop talking all that! Next time don’t repeat like this.”

Ron pacified, “Ok! I will not do like this. But it all happened due to your miscommunication and let us close the issue here itself.”

Ron finally said, “I am sorry if there was any mistake on my part”

Susan cooled down her temper and said, “Now you go outside the cabin.”

Ron left the cabin puzzled and shocked. It was first time in his life a woman took him to task for none of his mistakes. Since he respected Susan he didn’t like to hurt her in any way by arguing with her.

Outside the cabin, a few office friends enquired Ron to find out what had happened inside the cabin. He did not reveal what really happened inside the room as he was basically a confidential person by nature.

After 15 minutes, Ron called Susan telephonically and explained clearly that things went wrong due to improper communication. He once again apologized her for the incident. Susan said that she was in a position to take action against him but said that she would not initiate any action against him. Ron asserted that he was not concerned for any kind of action but concerned if Susan was hurt.

The incident depressed Ron for many days as he failed to understand where he went wrong. He was not worried about the incident but more worried as he liked Susan very much. It disturbed his peace and sleep. He sought an appointment with Susan several times to communicate the same but the latter never gave such an opportunity.

Questions to Ponder:

Was it a conflict? If it were a conflict, what led to this conflict?
Was it due to clash of egos or emotions or feelings or miscommunication?
Who was responsible for this conflict - Susan or Ron or both Ann and Beth?
Was there anything hidden between these two personalities?
Did the real issues come up or anything still hidden between these two personalities?
What were the other hidden reasons, if any?

Case Study Analysis:

In any communication, there has to be feedback whether the receiver has understood the message. In this case, Ron rushed to hand over the resumes without taking clear confirmation from Susan. It was mistake on the part of Susan for not taking feedback after her communication. Whatever it may be, it is not an issue worth to become a conflict. There are hidden data of communication such as feelings, emotions and egos which have not been clearly expressed by Susan. Both Susan and Ron developed filters in their minds. In fact, both are equally responsible for this conflict.

Susan has the attitude of ‘I am the boss’ and Ron has the attitude of ‘So what?’. Probably Susan lacked independent and original thinking as she was under the influence of Ann and Beth who were litigants and did not like Susan gelling well with Ron in the initial probationary period. Finally, both Ann and Beth were successful in separating both Susan and Ron by flaring up the issue. In contrast, Ron was not influenced by the negative comments made against Susan by John such as she was a divorcee and she was a woman of weak character with lot of arrogance. Ron was intelligent enough to smell the differences John must have had with Susan as they collectively completed a project in the past. Ron, being an experienced person knows that some differences must have cropped up between both Susan and John while execution of project. Ron was good by nature as he did not like the badmouthing of Susan by John. Right from the beginning Ron had good impression about Susan. Ron never hurt Susan although he was humiliated by Susan in the cabin. Ron was always defensive while Susan was offensive. It shows Ron’s character. Ron was also a gentleman as he did not carry forward the negative comments made by John to Susan. However, Ron was also at fault as he mixed his personal emotions with professional activities thus weakening his position within the organization.

In fact, something bugged Susan that resulted into sudden outburst and thus humiliating Ron. The solution lies only when both Susan and Ron come together and take a relook at the issue and communicate with each other. It not only removes the barriers but also builds the bridges between both of them. It helps in better relations and ensures peaceful working environment.

In any conflict, the real reasons usually don’t surface. Besides, it is very difficult to probe the heart of a woman. Probably Susan was influenced by two negative colleagues Ann and Beth as she lacked independent thinking. She looks like an intellectual fool as she was easily instigated by both Ann and Beth. In brief, Susan was a puppet and Ann and Beth were puppeteers.

It is also a classic example of emotions playing a crucial role in deciding professional relationship. In any working environment, people of opposite sex often develop soft corner and admiration for each other. Same thing happened between Susan and Ron. It seems Ron and Susan like each other internally but they failed to express themselves properly.

At the instigation of Ann and Beth, Susan being a senior succeeded in silencing and humiliating Ron by misusing her official authority as she might have read the signals of Ron’s body language as he liked her. There is also a possibility that Susan made Ron a scapegoat to protect her professional image built over for the last 5 years within the organization. When Ron apologized once again just after the closed door cabin conflict, Susan’s threat of initiating action against Ron was an indication of her superiority complex (bossism, of course, not sadism) and stubbornness and also growing insecurity within herself.

They should keep their personal emotions and feelings away for making the working environment conducive and productive. The attitude of ‘tit for tat’ is no solution for managing the conflicts within the organization. Probably it was the reason why Ron apologized and came out of the cabin after heated arguments. He was intelligent enough to apologize and to come out the cabin, else Susan might fix Ron on sexual harassment case as she was not at all in a mood to think independently and also she was poisoned by Ann and Beth who vitiated the working environment by badmouthing and bringing politics within the organization.

John told Ron that Susan as a woman of weak character with lot of arrogance and it was rumored within the organization that Susan was divorced by her husband due to these reasons. However, Ron did not pay heed to John as it was Susan’s personal matter; if it happened to be true. Ron looked Susan from a very positive perspective like a woman who has huge potential and a long a way to go in her career. Ron was also the kind of person who separates personal matter from professional matter. As Ron distanced John for badmouthing against Susan, Susan too should have distanced from the badmouthing and litigant colleagues. If it were done so, the conflict could have been averted.

It becomes obvious from the case study that Ron is ENTJ (Extravert, Intuitor, Thinker and Judger) type while Susan is ISTJ (Introvert, Sensor, Thinker and Judger) type as per the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). Therefore, it is a clear clash between ISTJ and ENTJ.

Key Learnings:

Both have many similar qualities such as avoiding organizational politics, not meddling into others’ activities, being disciplined and dedicated professionals and confidential (not revealing their inner feelings to others). They both are like poles and repel and only way they attract with each other is that they belong to opposite sex. In fact, both Ron and Susan could make as an excellent team if they come together and it helps the organization as well.

It is essential to emphasize here that personal human weaknesses should not overtake the professional activities. It is also improper to exploit the weaknesses of human beings to establish superiority. If it were so, such conflicts would arise.

Succinctly, the conflict is the result of Ron looking at Susan positively and the Susan looking at Ron negatively under the instigation of her two negative colleagues. In fact, both were good by nature but the way looked at each other resulted into conflict. Therefore, Susan should reconsider Ron on a clean slate so that such conflicts could be averted in future.

To conclude in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.”

The End

1 comment:

laxmi swetha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.