The other day, a good friend of mine shared some challenges she was having at work. She described what seemed to be an office ambush, in which she — a black woman, was described as both unprofessional and late by her two white female superiors. As can be expected, this was difficult for her. Not only did it come off as a personal attack without warning of any prior transgressions, but it was a meeting to set up a probationary period in which her job was now on the line.
To make matters worse, when I began to ask questions about how they were keeping record of her infractions, she shared that she had no idea. So, with no written reprimand, she had no way to track the accuracy of their claims.
One claim that was brought up by her supervisor was that a conversation between her and a provider — also a black woman, was unprofessional. To which the provider made no actual complaint. Another claim stemmed from her calling ahead to warn her supervisor that she may be late. There was no record on whether she was actually late or by how much time. Only that she called. Something wasn’t adding up.
As her story unfolded, I questioned whether this was a simple performance review or a complete cultural misunderstanding? Was it even possible for this friend to survive in a work environment where they have more of a problem with who she is than what she’s actually doing?
Outside of their complaints, she continued to work well over her 40 hours a week, built exemplary relationships with her clients and had a passion in a field that people often times experience burn out. She was a decorated employee with great experience. What could be the problem?
As a black woman in the professional workplace myself, I have often been faced with cultural differences that create challenges in the workforce whether from other cultures or my own. My experience has shown me that although it doesn’t account for all the issues, culture can be a factor to consider when addressing inter-office conflict.
So, here are 5 helpful tools to address inter-office conflict from a cultural perspective:
1. Cultural Competency Training
At this point, I’m judging any organization that doesn’t have some form of cultural competency or diversity training. It’s simple. Learning how to deal with people from a cultural perspective is not about separatism. It’s about embracing differences to create healthier work environments.
Employees coming into work environments lacking in diversity and diversity training should consider advocating for those trainings. Otherwise, it can be a red flag that diversity isn’t something that is important to them.
2. Create Safe Spaces for Conversation
Creating safe spaces for employees to discuss concerns at work is essential for healthy work environments. This is something that corporations normally put value in through a Human Resource department, but smaller businesses and nonprofits may not have the infrastructure for that kind of move.
In cases where organizations don’t have a Human Resource department, there should be someone in charge of managing conduct and support for employees. If not, employees need to explore how the organization managing conflict and other employee issues prior to working there, then decide whether it’s a safe environment for them.
3. Know Your Company’s Policies
As an employee, you should know your company’s policies and not just what you are told but what is actually in writing. Supervisors are relatively quick to refer to company policy when they need to execute a disciplinary action, as they should be, but not always when that action is in favor of the employee.
Employees can empower themselves by knowing policies beforehand and knowing when to ask questions. If you suspect it is an issue or discrimination, there are laws against discrimination in the workplace.
4. Document! Document! Document!
Coming from a Social Work background, we are told to document everything. In any field, keeping records of documentation can mean the difference between keeping your job and losing it. In situations where you and your supervisor don’t see eye to eye, working with them to develop systems helps to hold everyone accountable and can be evidence in a case where you have to advocate for yourself.
5. Develop Your Own Standard
When it comes to being successful at work, it is always good to set your own standard and goals around your job. Standing out requires a level of excellence that goes above and beyond the call of duty. In relation to conflict, when you are a great employee, you have more leverage to be you. You build a reputation of excellence and people begin to give you the benefit of the doubt, regardless of their limitations or understanding.
All of that to say, make sure you evaluate when you need to adjust your level of professionalism and when you need to challenge the status quo.