Katarina Harju 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

Generally speaking I believe one should not try to hide from conflict when it arises, it is better to face it head on than to let it fester and cause more problems in the future. Personally, if I need to resolve a conflict between others, I try to look at the issue from all sides, talk to the people involved, and form a complete picture of what the problem is. Above all else I believe it is important to be impartial—if there is no common ground or compromise to be found between the two parties, then it is my duty to make a decision that is fair without being influenced by either side. However, I also believe that it is important to create an environment where causes of conflict are minimized, by creating clear guidelines for acceptable behaviour.

What do you feel the Board’s role should be in staff and volunteer performance issues and/or disputes, if any? What guides your opinion on this topic?

I think that performance issues or disputes should first and foremost be handled by committee chairs; it’s the duty of the chairs to escalate the issue if they deem it necessary. Board should not become involved in such issues unless they are asked to do so by the chair, or if the issue itself involves one of the chairs. The Board cannot be familiar with all of the staffers and volunteers, or the day-to-day life of every committee. This means that they cannot be as familiar with any issues that might arise as the chairs, and are not as well equipped to handle such issues, as they are not familiar with the environment or the people involved in the same way as the committee chairs. During my time in the OTW I have never witnessed a dispute or performance issue that needed any kind of involvement from the Board.

Throughout the years, the Board as a whole has had a reputation for personal conflicts with some OTW chairs, staffers and volunteers, as well as among themselves. Have you ever witnessed this during your years in the OTW? What do you think might fix this?

I have unfortunately witnessed Directors being abusive and dismissive towards chairs, staffers and volunteers on several occasions. I cannot speak to the relationships between Board members, though I do admit to thinking that the exchanges between them have sometimes seemed somewhat tense. The only way to fix this, I believe, is to create strict guidelines for the conduct of Board members with clear consequences if a Board member steps over the line and to foster a work culture that discourages poor behavior before it escalates.

In a hypothetical situation where you believed your fellow directors were behaving with hostility towards an OTW staffer’s request due to a personal grudge, how would you react? / How would you address a fellow Director who has been disrespectful or abusive to someone else in the organization? What if they refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for their behavior?

I believe I would first talk to the Director in question and help them see that their personal feelings were having an adverse effect on their judgement, and that they were not behaving in a professional manner. Depending on what the situation was, I would perhaps even suggest that they recuse themselves or otherwise distance themselves from the situation. Of course I hope that any Director would be professional enough to acknowledge that their judgement had failed them momentarily, and consequently apologise to the people involved. However, if they are unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, and especially if there is a pattern of such behaviour and abusiveness towards volunteers, then I hope that by that time we would have created such policies that we can take appropriate action, and, ultimately, if the Director in question persists in refusing to correct their actions, then even go as far as removing them from the Board.