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Establishing a code of conduct with accountability (Proceedings)


What are your expectations and hopes for how people behave at work? To get a "good attitude" from everyone, involve them in creation of expectations for behavior.

What are your expectations and hopes for how people behave at work? To get a "good attitude" from everyone, involve them in creation of expectations for behavior. These expectations are often called "Norms," "Ground rules," or a "Code of Conduct." Do you have these? If not, ask the team to work together to create them.

Your interpersonal code of conduct

Your code of conduct is an agreement among yourselves about how you will interact. Share the example here, and then work together to create your own. Use specific words and descriptions in your code (preferably, words that describe something that can be heard or seen). For example, a "good attitude" cannot be seen or heard. "Smiles and says 'hello' in the morning" can be seen and heard. It is okay to start with those kinds of general terms, as long as you then work together to define them more clearly. Gather ideas about your standards of courtesy and conduct. Sort, refine, and develop your ideas until everyone feels they can support the result.

Sample code of conduct

I assume positive intentions by others.

I speak respectfully to and about others.

I elicit, welcome, and offer diverse opinions.

I continually practice active listening.

I am clear about my responsibilities (and ask if I am not).

I pitch in whenever necessary.

I celebrate others' successes.

I strive to be courteous. That includes:

I say "Please" and "Thank you."

I avoid swearing.

I smile whenever possible.

I do not make slurs or jokes about race, religion, or gender. If I am informed that a word or phrase may be interpreted negatively by others, I avoid using it.

I strive to ensure that what I say could be heard by any client or co-worker without negative interpretation.

I am clear about my needs, questions, and concerns. That includes:

I think and feel for myself.

I use "I" messages.

I avoid use of body language to convey negative emotions.

I do not complain without discussing future positive alternatives.

I take responsibility for speaking up and sharing my thoughts.

I respect others' boundaries. That includes:

I do not make assumptions about others' intentions or feelings.

I ask questions when another person's action has an impact on me.

I let others speak up for themselves; I do not take responsibility for their issues. I do not think or feel for other people.

What's behind "bad attitude?"

Simply creating a code of conduct may not create instant results. Look deeper for the cause of complaining or tattling. If complaining is a frequent occurrence among team members, the root cause may be a shared sense of powerlessness. If, instead, "telling" or "tattling" to a supervisor is a frequent occurrence, it is possible that team members feel they are treated unfairly.

Chronic complaining involves at least three people: the complainer, the listener, and the target or subject of the complaint. In the "drama triangle," the complainer (the victim) complains to a listener (the rescuer or hero) about a third person (the villain). The rescuer sometimes feels called to action, becoming a shuttle diplomat. ("Will you tell Joe he's bothering me?")

To minimize this problem, create more-open communication both among the team and with supervisors or managers. Don't allow yourself to be drawn into a "drama triangle," no matter which role you take on. Decline to complain or listen to others' complaints. Learn about and practice initiating "difficult conversations" when disputes arise. To start, create a team discussion about interpersonal conflict. What do you expect team members to do when they experience discord?

Create your conflict resolution policy

While larger companies have had conflict resolution policies in place for some time, this concept is new to small business. In some ways that is good, since the approach taken by big companies often focuses on creating a paper trail rather than figuring out how to interact. A few hospitals have created a conflict resolution policy. Such a policy must be made with input from the entire team in order for people to adhere to its direction.

The following is intended to help team members deal directly with everyday interpersonal interactions. (Of course, there are times when legal human-resource issues require that managers get involved.)

At a team meeting talk about how you are going to deal with conflict. Talk about how it's tough to be direct with others, and acknowledge this to your team. Say that even though it's tough, you want them to try.

Keep it simple. Lengthy processes or lots of paperwork will discourage people from facing conflicts immediately. The policy should end (not start) with a written grievance procedure. Caveats for those who work with family members or good friends: Ensure there are 2 options for "who to go to," in the event that a conflict involves the friend or family of the person you need to report to.

Sample conflict resolution policy

We are each responsible for promptly discussing conflicts directly with the other involved.

We will strive to listen and understand the other's point of view.

We will work together toward a common goal (perhaps the vision or mission).

If we cannot reach agreement, we will talk to the manager.

We agree to participate in mediation with an outside mediator for unresolved conflict.


Leaders: Now you have standards of courtesy and a conflict resolution policy... how do you ensure your team actually follows through with the plan? Your practice culture must reflect the level of importance you place on these items. Discuss them during performance evaluations, but don't limit yourself to those once or twice yearly events. Make everyone accountable for upholding the standards. These aren't just "nice to do," nor are they optional. They are part of everyone's job description—including your own.

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