Dean Dad over at Confessions of a Community College Dean has two posts that I believe are very relevant to the listening and problem solving portion of we Evil HR types. Here’s a quote from the first post:

When Night Dean said it was possible, what he meant was “maybe.” When Psych Prof heard that it was possible, she took it to mean “yes.” So when ND came back the following week and said no, Psych Prof took it as betrayal and reacted accordingly; ND took her anger as inexplicable and therefore unprofessional. Psych Prof called ND a liar, which she believed to be true and he believed to be false. A single ambiguous word led to a major clash of narratives and egos.

Once I figured that out, I explained the sequence to each separately, then arranged for the two to meet to bury the hatchet. The course sub didn’t stand, but we were able to work out other ways for the students to get what they needed.

The entire episode unfolded over a short span and was quickly resolved, but it has stuck with me. I think what made it so emblematic of administration is that the two conflicting stories were both internally correct. Both Psych Prof and Night Dean acted in good faith, and both believed that they were looking out for the students. Neither was lying. Each took personal umbrage at the way the other acted, and each believed that higher principles and personal honor were at stake. And both were very emotional.

And here is a the second quote:

Last week I saw another iteration of one of the little games that drives me crazy. At a meeting at which all of the academic deans were present, the director of a center said something to the effect of “I don’t want to name any names, but some of your faculty aren’t following through on their (task x). You should really stay on top of that.”

What, exactly, do people hope to achieve with statements like that?

If the statement contained some sort of verifiable fact claim — “Dave didn’t do task x last semester” — I could do something about that. I could check, and either dismiss the claim or have a discussion with Dave.

In both situations, or friend the Dean had to listen and ask questions before coming to a conclusion. Just because an employee comes in blustering that someone is mean or harrassing or just plain impossible to work with doesn’t mean that they are.

One of the things that annoys me the most is the second example. We deal with this all the time in employee relations. A manager will come to us, saying, “John does not provide good follow up to clients.” Of course, John will not have been told this before, but the manager wants ER to deal with it. So, we, of course, ask for a concrete example and we can’t get one.

We also see it where people are trying to step over their colleagues or superiors to accomplish their career aspirations, complaining about other’s incompetence, but unable–or unwilling–to provide details.

And don’t even get me started on dealing with the misunderstandings demonstrated in the first post.

I think if Dean Dad ever wants to leave academia he can come on over to HR.

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2 thoughts on “Think First

  1. Well, there will always be room in HR for you. The rest of us get fed up and leave sooner or later.

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