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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
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.
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 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.
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
Mullins (2005) states “Whatever the type or nature of an organisation or its formal structure, an informal organisation will always be present” (Figure 1). Mullins proposes that an informal organisation will evolve due to the natural interaction between people and groups within an organisation. While the formal structure, by its nature, is defined the informal structure will be a much looser system, with its defined attributes and its own forms of relationships. The danger here is that the informal structure may be at odds with the required aims of the formal organisation (Mullins, 2005).
These are areas in the informal organisation that relate to the problem discussed in this report:
Personal animosities and friendships
Emotional feelings, needs and desires
Effective relationships between managers and subordinates
The animosity and unfriendliness displayed by the manager, coupled with the associated emotional upset caused and the effect on my needs and desires (see Hierarchy of Needs below) dramatically affects the relationship between myself and the manager. These negative aspects within the informal organisation have a corresponding adverse effect in the formal organisation through loss of production, motivation and efficiency.
Figure 1 Organisational Analysis (from Kenneth Lysons, ‘Organisational Analysis’, Supplement to the British Journal of Administrative Management, no. 18, March/April 1997).
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 called my manager, with a very strong personality and an acertive 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.
Being aware of a personality clash between me and the manager I was trying to understand what caused her hostile behaviour and I considered if any behaviour of mine caused the conflict. 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 1 for a copy of the Thoms-Kilmann Conflict Mode Questionnaire).
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).
Perception and stereotyping
Person perception is the process by which we attribute characteristics or traits to particular people. The factors influencing person perceptions are both external and internal. It is particularly useful to categorize factors that influence how one person perceives another as
The situation or context within which the perception takes place
Characteristic of the perceiver and
Characteristic of the person being perceived.
In perceiving someone else, we process a variety of clues about the person: facial expression, general appearance, skin colour, posture, age, gender, voice quality, personality traits, behaviours, etc. Some clues may contain important information about the person, but many do not. People seem to have implicit personality theories about which physical characteristics, personality traits, and behaviours are related to others. These beliefs and assumptions may affect how individuals view, treat, and remember other people. At best, the way that people group characteristics and traits helps them to organize their perceptions and to better understand their word. At worst, implicit personality theories lead to perceptual errors, such as stereotyping. ( Hellriegel et al, 1989) (Do you have a source for this? Are these your own word?)
Stereotyping is the tendency to assign attributes to someone solely on the basis of a category in which that person has been placed. (Weightman, 1999)
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.
My manager’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 background had a significant implication to the atmosphere in our office and my wellbeing.
It might be true that some Polish women work as nannies or cleaners but it does not identify me, my needs, and my weaknesses. So if my manager used the stereotypical view of Polish women towards me, she missed who I actually am, as an individual.
It was very difficult to please and satisfy her 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 behaviour 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 the 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.
I decided that although I did not like confrontation it was necessary to at least talk to her about the situation and try to resolve the issues. I asked to speak to her in private about my current situation, which I’m pleased to say she agreed to. This led to a meeting in her office where I expressed my concerns and was worried that she did not think I was suitable for the job. I asked that she put any pre-conceived ideas behind her and that she gave me the chance to prove by abilities based on my work rather than my nationality or background. Unfortunately she refused to accept that there was anything wrong with her behaviour to me and that I should “stop behaving like a silly girl” This last comment was made after she opened her office door so all the other staff could hear.
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 need to listen, understand and consider the whole person, which requires rejecting any preconceived assumptions, based on the stereotypes that are created and used.
Having felt humiliated and knowing that the situation could only get worse I decided to talk to the director in charge of my office. I explained the situation and was particularly careful to give examples and try to be as rational as possible. The director told me that this was just my manager’s way and I should not take it personally. He said he was sure things would sort themselves out and there was no need to worry. In effect he refused to accept there was a problem and certainly did not wish to involve himself with any further discussions with either my manager or myself.
Strategic Implications of the problem
Strategic Implications of the problem include but are not limited to:
– High turnover of staff (extra training cost must be applied)
– Loss of staff (qualified and trained assistants)
– Unacceptable manager’s behaviour affected quality of work and effectiveness
– Intense sickness absence of assistants
– Bad company’s reputation and image
– Damaged trust in relationship with leader (director)
The above issues will be defined and discussed in terms of main themes stated initially i.e.: work relationship, leadership and communication.
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. However, 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). Within one year two office assistants left the company, citing the cause as my manager’s difficult character.
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 relationships. 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 feeling 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, did not want to see my friends or family and I often asked for days off from work.
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. According to Smith and Mackie (2007, p 212) “Belonging to a negatively stereotyped group poses a threat to self-esteem, because group membership contributes directly to one’s individual self-identity”. This was demonstrated by Twenge and Crocker (2002) and by Luhtanen et al. (1991)
Abraham Maslow, in his book Motivation and Personality (1954) described a Hierarchy of Needs which shows five layers of need which must be satisfied in turn starting from the basic need for survival. As can be seen from the following diagram it is necessary to achieve belonging and love needs and then esteem needs in order to achieve Self Actualisation (personal growth and fulfilment).
In this instance the treat to the Esteem needs such as reputation, status, achievement and responsibility were threatened along with the Belongingness and Love needs such as relationships and workgroup. This creates an unstable situation leading to demotivation and other negative aspects. Not being satisfied at work and not being accepted by an employee I was not concerned about my career and future fulfilment but wanted to please my manager first to have better relationship.
Fig 2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Management and Leadership Styles
According to Mullins (2005) there are many ways of looking at leadership and many interpretation of its meaning therefore due to its complex nature there are variable ways of analysing it. It is helpful to have some framework to examine leadership in terms of:
The qualities and traits approach
The functional or group approach
Leadership as a behavioural category
Styles of leadership
Transactional or transformational leadership ; and
Inspirational or visionary leadership
(Please refer to Appendix 2 for further details).
It needs to be stressed that 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).
Ineffective leadership is not only due to the negative attributes of those in leadership roles but is also affected by the lack of positive attributes. Toor and Ogunlana (2009) note “Attributes such as lack of experience,
inability to control complex situations, incapacity to stand up to top management and being a poor motivator are not negative attributes as such; rather, these attributes reflect the absence of positive professional competencies”.
Many organisations and their managers and executives are guilty of ignoring, tolerating or sustaining conflicts (Guirdham, 2002). This statement confirms the behaviour of my director who was trying to explain that I should accept the fact that my manager 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
The director was not an effective leader because 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 an 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.
The director was aware that manager’s behaviour 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 my manager, someone who can direct and take steps to resolve the problem.
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. I felt that there was no support from the management of the company and the absence of a managerial ‘role model’ who I could turn to for advice and respect made the situation worse.
According to Hellriegel et al (1989) the importance of communication and the way people interact cannot be overestimated. When individuals engage in effective interpersonal communication, they increase their own sense of well-being and become more effective employees.
Interpersonal communication can be specified as 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.
Interpersonal communication involving face-to-face discussion is the medium with the highest degree of information richness. An information-rich medium is particularly important for performing complex tasks and resolving issues that involve considerable uncertainty and ambiguity. Non-verbal cues play a powerful role and are related to verbal communication.
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:
– invasion of personal space,
– extent of eye contact,
– tone of voice
– 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. I would often be ignored, such as when saying “good morning”, often my suggestions received looks of contempt and she would talk to the other employees but with her back towards me.
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.
According to Erven (2008) stereotyping (discussed previously) 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.”
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.
Alternative options for resolving problem
Working in a small office environment involves working within a group and becoming an active and valued member of that group. I felt that my manager’s constant negative attitudes undermine by ability to work well within my peer group and also affected the other member acceptance of me into that group.
Although I felt no animosity with the other office employees and their treatment of me was always quite reasonable there was always the feeling that they were slightly embarrassed by the interactions between my manager and me and this prevented me from being able to be accepted completely into the group. I was always something of an ‘outsider’ and I was concerned that my complaints would label me as a ‘complainer’ and reduce any sympathy they might have for my situation.
Smith and Mackie (2007, p 216-222) identify several strategies for overcoming stereotyping in a working environment:
Individual Mobility – removing oneself from identification with a stereotype group either through disidentification or through dissociation.
Disidentification (putting the stereotype group at a psychological distance) involves removing a personal connection to the group through criticism of a member or members of a group or by identifying yourself as an exception to the normal group member.
Dissociation (putting the group at a physical distance) involves removing oneself from any connection with a stereotype group in an attempt to become accepted with those outside such a group.
Either of these would in my case be unrealistic or undesirable. I have no reason to be ashamed of my nationality or culture and although I consider myself to be cosmopolitan by nature I would not consider it right to either criticise my country or people for the sake of pleasing any work colleagues. I also think that trying to pretend I was not Polish would be impractical as well as unethical.
Smith and Mackie also suggest that “One can redefine group characteristics in positive terms in order to attempt to change society’s evaluations of this group.”
This would involve trying to dispel the negative attitude of my manager by positive action. For instance I could try to impress her with a high standard or work to show her that just because I was Polish didn’t mean I could not produce such work.
Although I believe in working to ones best ability anyway, regardless of the reasons, this strategy seems to me to be a negative approach. I would be trying to almost prove myself despite my background, which I find quite offensive.
Alternatively I could 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.
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 my case it was time to consider leaving the job.
Choice of option
It seemed to me that there were two practical choices available to me. I could stay working with the company and try to resolve the situation, or just accept it as it is and put up with it. Alternatively I could leave and find another job elsewhere.
I finally decided that I would look for a new job and at the earliest opportunity give my notice.
Rationale for choice
If I were to continue to work for this company I feel that it would be necessary to change the situation. To continue working there and suffering the effects of my manager’s behaviour towards me, the ineffectual leadership of the director and minimal support from my peer group would not be acceptable. Unfortunately to change the situation would require a significant amount of effort, with possibly little effect, and increase the pressure on what was already a stressful job.
Although it may be said that finding another job was running away from the situation I take a different view. I believe that far from running away I was taking control and I removed a negative and stressful situation by my own positive action.
Implementation of Option
Having decided to leave I was able to continue work while looking for new employment. This gave rise to a new situation where before I was depressed and tired all the time I ac
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