Bad conduct: staying impartial and meeting them where they are

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Bullying in swimming, in rugby, in cricket, in government. Even worse conduct in the police. It seems there is no end to the scandals around people’s conduct at work these days.

Some of the conduct alleged is so appalling, it is hard not to have an immediate gut reaction to it. The media coverage further encourages us in this vein. But for a fair society, and a fair workplace, we need to pause before we condemn. Fairness is at the heart of every good investigation into workplace conduct. Which got me thinking:

How do you achieve fairness?

How do you not let your biases get in the way?

How do you stay impartial and balanced when confronted with grossly offensive WhatsApp messages?

After years of advising, investigating and mediating, I am clear about four things:

1. There are very few bad people out there (of course, there are always a few exceptions).

2. There are people who do bad things at times (there are no exceptions; we have all done bad things at times).

3. Everyone deserves the chance to be seen, heard and understood, before conclusions are reached about your conduct.

4. The answer is: kindness and curiosity.

I have, whilst investigating workplace conduct, met people whose WhatsApps or emails made for really unsavoury reading. Sometimes content that really shocked me. But as I say to them when I meet them, my role is first and foremost to find out more. My aim is to paint a fair picture of what went on. Who are they? What is their story? What is the culture of the organisation? Is there a particular relationship at play? What is the context of that relationship? What did they intend? Did they know the impact it had? Have they reflected since? What else do they want me to know?

The same kind curiosity is of course extended to all those who take part in the investigation.

At the end of the process, a fair investigation is one in which everyone feels they have had their voice heard, taken account of. This is key to people understanding the conclusions reached, even if they do not agree with it.

To use Matt Dean’s expression: you need to meet them where they are. Our Resolution team, which I am proud to be the Interim Head of, is here to help you resolve concerns with kindness and fairness.

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