Monday, March 26, 2012
My previous post revealed a huge conflict generated by misused words on a national scale. I now would like to discuss conflict and tensions that arise from the absence of words, on a much smaller scale. In May 2011, I did a three-week work placement in Paris, at the French market leading tourism-marketing agency. You would think that such professionals would handle internal communication like masters? Nope.
On my first day, as I was familiarising myself with the task I was asked to do, me and the girls in my department watched four men in black followed by the CEO doing what looked like an office viewing. As they left, I understood that nobody knew what was going on, and apparently it was not the first time something like this had occurred. Then, very predictably, it escalated. At lunch, rumours started to appear, from somebody who might have heard something from somebody. Conclusions arose from complete speculations. But what was blindingly obvious was the frustration of all the employees who were left in the dark. And it went on like that for a week, only aggravating the anger of my colleagues.
At the very end of my work placement, I learnt that the CEO sent a brief email explaining that the organisation would be moving at the end of the month into open cubicles. Cheers for that! I have to say I am quite happy that I left before all of that happened because I know that these news, instead of relieving the employees, upset them even more.
What should he have done? A meeting to tell the employees that he was planning on moving to new offices. Regular emails to keep them in the know. Maybe even ask them for their opinions or at least let them express themselves. In one word, be a bit more diplomatic!
Too many words (and especially when misused) can cause damage. But the absence of words in a world of transparency can be as dangerous if not more to an organisation. A month after I left, my work placement tutor quit. No wonder.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
At the heart of the French presidential campaign, an event that could easily be defined as being of conflicting and controversial nature occurred between two French political figures. In early February 2012, only a few months away from the presidential elections and in the middle of intense political debates, Claude Guéant, the Minister of the Interior stated: “For us, all civilisations are not equal. Those who advocate humanity seem more advanced than those who deny it.” in front of a class full of students. How can such an intelligent figure teach young and gullible minds to assess a civilisation’s in terms of its value? Obviously, in 2012, it is unacceptable to talk about a civilisation’s “value” compared to other civilisations. But did this statement need what it got in return? In the French National Assembly, the Martinique Deputy Serge Letchimy compared Claude Guéant’s words to the Nazi ideology of some people being inferior to others that led to concentration and extermination camps. Ouch!
In this case, we can talk about a huge conflict. We could even say that we are talking about a crisis, a polemic. When Buchanan and Huczynski (2007) define conflict as a process that affects one or both parties, we can easily say that Guéant and Letchimy have reached a whole new level of conflict. Obviously the French media caught on fire, defending one or the other position, showing how appalling one or the other statement was and all politicians could talk about was who was going to get what punishment.
Both parties are expecting apologies that never came and instead, keep settling scores through the media. I have learnt, after many years of practicing conflict as well (on a lower level), that trying to cool things down and find a common ground usually works a bit better. Indeed, despite the appalling statement that Guéant made, we all know what he meant. I like to think that in 2012, nobody in their right minds can talk about a civilisation’s “value” and what it is worth in comparison to other civilisations. However, I think we can all agree that a country that downgrades women or children is going against universal rights. Why not just adjust his aim and correct his statement? One could argue that this pattern is not only radical in the way that both parties can’t seem to see a way of solving the conflict, but also completely counterproductive and dysfunctional.
But if we look at it from a closer distance, this polemic occurred during the presidential campaign, didn’t it? Could the fact that it seems unsolvable and holds the country’s focus actually be a diversion technique from the real debate? When involved in a conflict, we all have our ways of dealing with it. Some hide, some try to shout even louder, some of us are assertive and others try desperately to find a compromise. But in this case, the said “some” created a smaller conflict (which could have been solved quite quickly) to turn people away from the main issue. I knew conflict as a way to get something, to point out a dysfunction, to impose one’s opinion upon somebody, but as a diversion! Never too late to learn…