Whilst dealing with (yet another!) staff issue, I was reminded of a sentence I had read in Gillie Bolton’s Reflective Practice, “Culture is an iceberg: we are aware of differences, but they are even greater and more significant than they appear (Sellars, 2014)”.
The issue I was dealing with involved two members of staff complaining to me about each other, and, in fact, I felt they both had relevant points to their argument. Both members of staff have, or have had, ‘problems’ in their lives, like many of us, and these ‘problems’ do often play out in the arena of work. One of them, I shall call Jane, had become particularly upset, but didn’t want me to intervene. She felt she didn’t need the stress of a confrontation at this time. I acknowledged her wish, but still felt it had been left like an open wound – susceptible to infection.
An opportunity arose for me to casually mention some of Jane’s concern with the other staff member, let’s call her Janet. Janet immediately became defensive, and worried that I thought she had done something wrong. She assured me she was just doing her job. I realised that both Jane and Janet were reacting from issues far bigger than just the ‘job’. The presenting problems were just the tip of the iceberg.
I questioned myself as to why I was hesitating to confront either one of them, and realised that, not only was it my own struggle with confrontation, it was also because I knew a lot about each one’s personal life, and thought I was protecting them. I was seeing the iceberg below sea level, the significance of the greater expanse of their life experience, and how it affected their relationships in the workplace. It dawned on me that culture is not just what part of the world you are from, it is about the differences between us all, our upbringing, family, life experience. Even if we all share the same religion, ethnicity and values. Another saying comes to mind: ‘There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye’.
I now need to learn how to apply this learning to managing my staff team!