The “Be Nice Campaign: Be Hard on Problems and Soft on People”
On June 19, 2015, in a New York Times opinion, Christine Porath wrote “No Time to Be Nice at Work” opening with “MEAN Bosses could have killed my father.” I wrote about this article in the summer (see entry of 7/31/15) and while the article certainly made an impression on me, I was already a believer in terms of encouraging civility even when people disagreed. As a long time professional mediator, I’ve long encouraged people to separate the people from the problem based on concepts from one of the seminal books on negotiation/mediation “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury. I noted in my earlier post that perhaps this could develop into a “Be Nice” initiative. This fits well with part of what I consider my role as the NC State Faculty Ombuds – to promote healthy conflict resolution approaches.
Fast forward to last week. In addition to serving as the NC State Faculty Ombuds (on a part-time basis), I also maintain an active dispute resolution practice serving as mediator, arbitrator, teacher, and trainer. This past year I’ve had a chance to work with Marine Special Forces Team Commanders in a two day program focused on negotiation and mediation skills for working with people outside a military command structure. These programs generally include other military personnel to help with role plays and provide experience based concepts for the program students. During a session last week, one of the assistant trainers, an Army Special Forces Veteran with experience across the globe shared the following story about one of his team Sergeants to highlight the importance of being nice.
The story goes like this:
In the mid 1980’s the Sergeant was serving as a military advisor in El Salvador. This was in the middle of fighting between government forces and FMLN forces. One day the Sergeant was driving down a fairly remote dirt road when he saw a women up ahead walking along the side of the road and carrying a bundle of sticks for firewood. He slowed his vehicle down because that’s what you do on a dirt road when someone is walking so you don’t stir up the dust. He stopped when he got near the woman and asked if she wanted a ride. She did, got in the vehicle, and they headed up the road. He dropped her off with hardly a word spoken along the way and quickly forgot about the event.
About 4 months later, the Sergeant is sitting in a restaurant/bar in San Salvador. The spot is know as a “neutral” location where people and military could gather without fear of violence. As the Sergeant sat, a man approached and asked if he could join the table. The man said – “Do you know who I am?” The Sergeant did indeed know as this was one of the rebel commanders that was being sought. The FMLN commander sat down, looked to the Sergeant and said: “I just want to let you know that you will get out of this country alive . . . and, my mother says thanks for the ride.”
University campuses are designed to foster critical thinking and as part of such thinking comes disagreement. This is true for both students and faculty and comes in many forms. Unfortunately, both in and out of the classroom, there are times when disagreement between ideas becomes disagreement between people and differing opinions may cause differing and sometimes hostile treatment. This incivility as Christine Porath wrote can have both direct health consequences and impact the ability to be productive at work.
As I reflect on my short time as the NC State Faculty Ombuds (opened the office in February 2015) and the range of issues that have come my way to date, some of the situations call out for faculty to figure out how to disagree in a better way. How to be civil and polite while being assertive and even forceful on ideas – how to think and do conflict resolution in more productive ways.
Thus, with the connections noted above, I’m pleased to announce a new initiative from the NC State Faculty Ombuds Office –
The Be Nice Campaign: Be hard on problems and soft on people
This campaign will develop over time with a range of programming including written materials, training, and perhaps a public forum on the topic; however, the first step is to announce it and, in so doing, raise how faculty treat each other as an appropriate issue for consideration.
I look forward to working with you all to “Be Nice” and continue the critical thinking necessary to foster, develop, and share differing ideas and perspectives.