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Interactive Behaviour at Work

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Cheniere Energy was founded in 1983 and is a world leading liquefied natural gas (LNG) company. Through its subsidiaries the company engages in the development, construction, ownership, and operation of onshore LNG receiving terminals and natural gas pipelines in the Gulf Coast of the United States. It also engages in oil and natural gas exploration and development activities. Cheniere Energy is based in Houston, Texas with offices in Johnson Bayou, Louisiana, and London – called Cheniere International UK Branch. The London office consists of six people who are responsible for sourcing and trading LNG cargoes for Cheniere as well as managing the day to day operations and activities of the office.

Purpose of the report

The purpose of this report is to examine work issues at Cheniere International UK Branch resulting from office harassment and specifically the conflict between an office assistant and the operations manager. It focuses on the interactive behaviour themes relating to communication, work relationships and leadership.

Definition of Interactive Behaviour at work

The term interactive behaviour at work refers to the reciprocal communication conduct of two or more persons. It covers both their overt behaviour and the factors and processes underlying it. It also extends to the use of communication for purposes such as self-presentation, co-operation, influencing others, working in groups and leadership. (Guirdham, 2002)

Definition of the themes

Communication

According to Guirdham (2002) communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Interpersonal communication at work may be face-to-face or indirect, formal or informal, and transmitted verbally or non-verbally. Communication is affected by language, communicator style, the differences between one- and two-way communication, power and status, culture, gender and disability. These effects on communication give rise to barriers, which can be analyzed as intrinsic, individual level and inter-group. To be high in quality, communication must overcome these barriers.

Work relationship

Interdependence and social orientations, roles, norms and conformity as well as co-operative, competitive and conflict behaviour are all concepts that help us to understand and be more effective in work relationships. Other important aspects related to the issues discussed cover conflict resolution, cultural differences, coping with prejudice, discrimination and harassment. (Guirdham, 2002) Harassment is defined as: conduct which is unreasonable, unwelcome and offensive, and which creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment. (Mullins, 2005) Harassment is a potential cause of stress. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines stress as: “The adverse reaction people have to excess pressure. It is not disease. But if stress is intense and goes on for some time, it can lead to a mental and physical ill health”.

Leadership

Leadership can be defined as “the ability of an individual to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute towards the effectiveness and success of the organisation of which they are members” (Guirdham, 2002) There is a close relationship between leadership and management, especially in work organisation, and an increasing tendency to see them as synonymous. However, arguably there are differences between the two and it does not follow that every leader is a manager. Leadership might be viewed in more general terms, with emphasis on interpersonal behaviour in a broader context. According to Mullins (2005) due to its complex nature there are many alternative ways of analysing leadership. Leadership may be examined in terms of qualities or traits approach, in terms of the functional or group approach, as a behavioural category, in terms of styles of leadership, through the situational approach and contingency models, and in terms of distinction between transactional and transformational leadership.

Problem identification

The issue discussed in this report involves the deteriorating relationship between a manager and an assistant (myself) in a small office environment. In addition the report looks at the behaviour of a director of the company involved to whom the employees were directly responsible to.

Matters discussed include the identification of key points of conflict between the two persons involved, the style of management, the reaction of fellow employees, the interaction with the director involved and steps taken to resolve the issue.

Background and causes of problems

I joined the Cheniere International UK Branch in 2008 as an office assistant. Working at their London office in Mayfair where there were three other employees at my level, two were English and one was an American. I was the only one having English as a second language.

The operations manager was a mature English lady with a very strong personality and an accretive attitude. I noticed that I was being asked to do considerably more work than the other assistants and that the manager was querying my efforts every day. At first I thought this was because I was new to the job and that it was a way of measuring my capabilities and ability to cope with the stresses of the work. It became clear however that this was much more of a particular attitude toward me as compared to the other employees.

Maybe write something about working in a multi-cultural environment or possibly highlight that there was predominance of white Anglo-Saxon employees and as such no exposure to different cultures or ethnic diversity.

Inter-cultural problems arise when members of an in-group perceive members of an out-group as inferior. This can promote in-group favouritism, increased tendency to stereotype members of out-groups and negative attitudes to actual or perceived cultural differences. It can result in exclusion of members of out-groups, negative evaluations and harassment.

In a small office environment it would be unusual for someone in a position of authority to feel threatened by a single junior employee.

It is difficult to give any clear instances of harassment, as such, as this was a subtle but constant undermining of my position on a daily basis. This was apparent in her constant criticism of my work and references to my Polish background and English not being my native language. I made a point of asking the other assistants to check my work and they always said it was fine and that was just “her way” and not to worry. One occurrence that began to give me an insight to her behaviour was when she asked me, in front of all the other assistants, why “I did not work as a nanny or cleaner as all other Polish girls did”.

This indicated to me that there was the possibility that her actions were not actually based upon my performance but upon a much deeper prejudice and possible stereotyping of Polish people (either collectively or by gender).

In a strange way this was a relief as until then my confidence had been undermined and I felt under stress at work. It seemed nothing I ever did was right, I was often depressed, both at work and at home and it was difficult to understand why she picked on me and what was causing the problem. It also made it difficult for me to try to see how I could resolve the problem.

Being aware of the personality clash between us I was trying to understand what caused her hostile behaviour and I blamed myself that it was I who caused the conflict, but on the other hand I knew I normally never have any major problems engaging with people, being an easygoing and friendly person. The Thoms-Kilmann Conflict Mode Questionnaire can be useful in explaining my stance in the conflict. Scoring 9 in avoiding and 9 in accommodating styles shows that I am not an assertive person, do not wish to hurt people’s feelings, obey orders and I am generally a selfless type of person. (See Appendix x for a copy of the Thoms-Kilmann Conflict Mode Questionnaire you took.)

It was very difficult to please and satisfy her probably because she developed irrational beliefs and prejudiced views about me. If being from Poland meant to her that I should be a nanny or cleaner she maybe believed that people of other races or backgrounds are in some way inferior and therefore deserve to be treated as second class. According to Tehrani (1996) the lack of self awareness in harassers increases their fears and prejudice. Harassers never feel strong enough to test their views objectively, preferring to live in an irrational world, where they need to continually support their prejudiced views with biased evidence. To explain even deeper her behavior I would say she portrayed the actions of a stigmatizer.

Freidson (1983) stated that in Erving Goffman’s theory of social stigma “a stigma is an attribute, behaviour, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one”. In this manager’s eyes I was different; she may not want to accept me because of my nationality, my different accent, my origin.

Goffman divides the individual’s relation to a stigma into three categories: the stigmatized are those who bear the stigma; the normals are those who do not bear the stigma; and the wise are those among the normals who are accepted by the stigmatized as “wise” to their condition. I then represent a stigmatized person, the manager is normal and rest of our team can be seen as wise.

Strategic Implications of the problem

My case can be seen as a micro problem because it describes a situation in a small office and only a few people are involved in the conflict. I am the only person who was harmed and it could be argued that it is difficult to show macro implications from this issue. However, I would like to stress that harassment at the workplace occurs very often and causes a lot of problems. According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) harassment in the workplace costs employers in the UK more than £2bn per year in sick pay, staff turnover and lower productivity. 19 million working days are lost each year as a direct result of workplace harassment. 1 in 4 people report that they have experienced harassment in the last 5 years. 70% of HR professionals have witnessed or have been aware of harassment in their organisation. Organisations that fail to address the problem of unacceptable behaviour at workplace pay a heavy cost in terms of loss of staff, reduced innovation, morale and sickness absence. This is in addition to the cost of litigation and bad public relations (Tehrani, 1996). My issue did not affect the organisation in a significant way, except high staff retention – within 1 year two office assistants left the company because of Jane’s difficult character.

As mentioned before 25% of the population suffer from harassment. By describing my personal experience I raise an issue that affects a lot of people and something that organizations have to deal with. Harassment is related with work relationship – one of the main themes which are described in this paper. According to Tehrani (1996) harassment has a number of common elements; it involves a hurtful behaviour, this behaviour is repeated over a period of time and the person being harassed finds it difficult to defend themselves. People being harassed will also have difficulty in being rational in their thinking, believing the acts or views of a harasser are the views of everyone else. When I was working for Cheniere I was felling sad, negative and worthless. In addition my feelings were heightened with outbursts of anger, crying, loneliness and hurt. Lack of pleasure in almost everything that I was doing was significant and difficult to cope with. Being humiliated resulted in the lack of self confidence to assert myself and challenge the unacceptable behaviour of operations manager. It needs to be added that harassment is linked with stress. Guirdham (2002) stated: “Some of the major effects of stress include sleep trouble, tiredness, being unable to cope well in conflict situations, wanting to be left alone, smoking, drinking and eating too much, being unable to influence or persuade people and finding it difficult to get up in the mornings”. I recall that I was often very tired, could not sleep, and did not want to see my friends or family.

Some people were asking me why I let her be abusive and rude towards me. The answer is – because she had power over me. As I mentioned I held the lowest position in the office and I was supposed to listen to everyone and doing whatever they needed at work. Among French and Raven’s (1959) power sources there is one which can be implemented in this situation – coercive power. (Podsakoff and Schriesheim, 1985) Threats and punishment are common tools of coercion. I was often given undesirable tasks by Jane. There is one in particular where she spilled tea on her desk and asked me to clean it. My example demonstrates that this source of power can often lead to problems and in many circumstances it involves abuse. Coercive power can cause unhealthy behaviour and dissatisfaction in the workplace. (mindtools.com)

From my above evaluation it can be stated that the operations manager was definitely my significant other at that time. She had very strong influence on my self-esteem and my behaviour.

Many organisations and their managers and executives are guilty of ignoring, tolerating or sustaining conflicts and harassment (Guirdham, 2002). This statement confirms the behaviour of my director who was trying to explain me that I should accept the fact that Jane is generally a difficult person and therefore should not take it personally what she says and how she behaves. Lack of leadership qualities can be seen in my boss’s attitude. A large portion of the existing literature on leadership focuses only on the positive traits of leaders. However, the so-called “dark side of leadership”, or negative personal traits of leaders, has received relatively less attention. Also, in practice, leadership is mostly evaluated in terms of the positive traits and strengths of leaders, even though certain organizational factors and followers’ characteristics significantly contribute to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of leaders (Toor and Ogunlana, 2009). The director was not an effective leader. A leader who lacks character or integrity will not be seen as a competent one. Even though he was intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy, he was also prone to rationalizing unethical behaviour. Office harassment is a very unethical issue and should be resolved by a company’s leader, but it was not in my case. Moreover leaders not attuned to the needs of the employees are not effective either. Successful leaders focus on workers satisfaction and loyalty. They should find ways to consistently engage them and incorporate them into company’s policies and make sure they know and obey their code of conduct. If they ignore, mistreat, or otherwise do not value their employees, they will not be valued for competences. Furthermore good leaders should communicate effectively across mediums, constituencies, environments of course employees. My boss was aware that Jane’s behavior was harmful but did not react and did not want to be involved in the conflict. This observation can lead to a statement that the director represented a laissez faire leadership style. According to Flynn (2009) this type of a leader describes passive leaders who are reluctant to influence subordinates or give direction. They generally refrain from participating in group or individual decision making and to a large extent, abdicate their leadership role. Subordinates are given considerable freedom of action and, therefore, seem likely to maximize their power and influence. Although laissez- faire leadership can be very successful in some environments where followers are responsible for self-monitoring, problem solving in my case it was not what I needed. I was looking for a mediator in my conflict with Jane, someone who can direct and take steps to resolve the problem. From Blake Mouton Managerial Grid perspective, it could be argued that the director represented Impoverished Leadership which is known for creating a work environment that is not satisfying and not motivating. The result is a place of disorganization, dissatisfaction and disharmony. (Rollinson, 2005) My boss had low concern for employee satisfaction because knowing I was depressed and was in a conflict he was not concerned about it.

A major danger of stereotyping is that it can block out accurate perception of an individual and lead to potential situation of prejudice or discrimination. This in consequence can build communication barriers. Jane’s tendency to ascribe negative characteristics to me on the basis of a general categorisation was a simplified process of her perception. Her stereotyping process based on my nationality and education had a significant implication to the atmosphere in our office and my wellbeing. Her prejudice caused communication problem between us. According to Erven (2008) stereotyping is a barrier to communication when it causes people to act as if they already know the message that is coming from the sender or worse, as if no message is necessary because “everybody already knows.”

People stereotype genders, races, religions, and cultures. They combine them to say things but often incorrectly creating assumptions. Stereotypes develop from reality. “Poles steal British jobs” became a stereotype because a lot of Poles are poor and had to learn how to survive and came here to look for a job but they do not deserve to be stereotyped. It might be true that most of Polish women work as nannies or cleaners but, it does not identify me, my needs, and my weaknesses. So if Jane used the stereotypical view of Polish women towards me, she missed who I actually am, as an individual. I wanted to communicate, talk to her and did not want to be lost in the stereotypical concept. People are complex and need to be understood as individuals, not stereotypes. Uniqueness is what gets lost in the stereotypes and lack of proper communication. People should listen, understand, consider the whole person, and that requires rejecting the preconceived assumptions, based on the stereotypes that are created and used.

Communication is at the heart of many interpersonal problems faced by employers.

Understanding the communication process and then working at improvement provide a recipe for becoming more effective communicators. Knowing the common barriers to communication is the first step to minimizing their impact. Stereotyping is a barrier to proper communication, it cannot just disrupt communication, it can destroy it.

The significance of non-verbal communication and body language need to be evaluated in this report as in my case it was more important than verbal communication. According to Mullins (2005) non-verbal communication includes inferences drawn from posture, gesture, touch, invasion of personal space, extent of eye contact, tone of voice or facial expression. Very often the operations manger was using proper language and if was not obvious for others to see the conflict between us and her antipathy.

Her tone of voice and facial expression were sending messages that I was not accepted and were unwelcomed. Mullins (2005) adds also that in our face-to face communication with other people the messages about our feelings and attitudes come only 7 per cent from the words we use, 38 per cent from our voice and 55 per cent from body language, including facial expression. Significantly, when body language such as gestures and tone of voice conflicts with the words, greater emphasis is likely to be placed on the non-verbal message. He also suggests that when verbal and non-verbal messages are in conflict (like in my case regarding communication with the operations manager) accepted wisdom is that the non-verbal signals should be the ones to rely on, and that what is not said is frequently louder than what is said, revealing attitudes and feelings in a way words cannot express.

Alternative options for resolving problem

Leave the job or stay.

People have bad days at work. But if that bad day is every day, it might be time to consider leaving the job. Some causes of job dissatisfaction are impossible to alter, and in this case employees may well be better off making an exit. Leaving the job is usually a very difficult decision and can often cause mixed emotions: joy because of moving on to something better, sadness at losing people we enjoyed work with, relief we don’t have to cope with the problem and conflicts anymore. Uncertainty about the future and new job has usually a big impact on people’s decisions. I was also concerned about my future.

Staying with Cheniere was an alternative, but I was concerned how I can change the atmosphere and Jane’s behaviour. Talking to her or to my boss were the options to make my work conditions better. Alternatively I could stay with the company and try to accept the environment and ambiance, and try to reduce sensitivity to hostility or displays of prejudice. Mullins (2005) evaluated difficult people: “Perhaps our reluctance to identify, and then directly address, conflict within organisations is based upon the widely held belief that conflict is inevitable, negative and unmanageable”. There is a tendency to see conflict as a result one person’s personality. Conflict may be inevitable, but how dramatically situations could be changed if we could also view it as positive and manageable. What if we think of these situations as raising questions of difference? What if we were to make a shift away from blaming individuals and their personalities, recognizing instead that it is through normal human interaction that outward expressions of difference are produced? Unfortunately coping with difficult people is not one of my strong points.

Another option was to beat her at her own game. Act like her, be unsympathetic, telling colleagues how unfair she is. This option would be very difficult because she held higher position and therefore had power and because I respect people it wound be something against my values and beliefs.

Choice of option

I was trying to resolve the problem. I talked to the director but was ignored and was told that I should accept the situation as it is and accept Jane’s behaviour because she is difficult and she is not going to change her attitude. Another advice was that I should be less emotional and try to be mentally stronger. He did not wish to speak to Jane to ask to change her attitude and help her to cope with her hostile behaviour. Tehrani (1996) argue that the role of leader in developing the skills which enable people to communicate in an open and assertive manner is perhaps one of the most effective tools in addressing conflicts. The support of an assertive and caring manager is an important aspect of rehabilitating a harasser. Harassers need support when they are developing the new skills and behaviors in communication which will replace the harassing behaviours. I also talked to Jane but I was told that I read her intentions badly. She was trying to tell me that there was no issue between us and I should not waste her time for such conversations.

Rationale for choice

Because I had an interesting job, was satisfied with my compensation I did not want to leave thus I was trying to find a resolution. I was not accepted by one of the co-workers but I did not want to be a victim of harassment. I was trying to be a survivor. According to Tehrani (1996) victims of harassment frequently express the view that there is little they can do to prevent the harassment taking place. They have no choice but to put up with what is being done to them. This perception of lack of personal control or power must be changed if the harassee is ever to make sense of what has happened to them. Survivors, on the other hand, are able to begin to make choices and decisions about what they want to do to stop or resolve the harassment. Survivors of harassment take an active part in deciding how they would like things to be handled when resolving their problems. They are keen to take responsibility for making things happen, rather than behaving passively, allowing others, however well meaning, to take over control. One of the main skills survivors of harassment learn is to be assertive in expressing what they want and do not want to happen during the harassment investigation; to be able to say yes or no regardless of the wishes of others. Assertiveness is also one of the most important skills needed to prevent harassees becoming victims of harassment in the future. Finally the survivors of harassment are able to look forward to the future, a future without harassment, while the victims concentrate on the harassment itself, rather than on how they can change things to prevent the harassment occurring again. Although I was trying to help myself, was looking for help from the directors and also arranged a meeting with Jane, nothing changed.

Implementation of Option

I eventually decided to leave. It took me 2 weeks to find another job. The difference in the working environment was immense. New co-workers were pleasant and friendly. I am glad that I took control over the situation and left the company. I will never fully forget this experience but sometimes we should experience and accept the extremes, because if the contrast is lost, we lose appreciation.

Time for Implementation

I was working for this company for 5 months before handing in my resignation.

Conclusion

In recent years there has been an increasing recognition of the harm that could be done to individuals who become the victims of harassment or bullying. Although there have been significant moves to introduce legislation and guidelines that deal with the introduction of organizational policy and procedures on harassment and bullying, the occurrence of harassment is still common in many British organizations. My case in this paper can be perceived as a representation of this problem for many organizations. This is not an easy issue to deal with for mangers, people who cause harassment and most of all for people who suffer from hostile behavior. Background and causes of such conflicts are often implicit and not easy to resolve. Understanding the communication process and communication barriers is important to effectively control the problem. Leadership skills and appropriate use of power can be crucial.


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