Nikisha Sanders 2015 Q&A: Conflict Resolution, Group 1

When Elections was ordered to remove Nikisha Sanders from the 2015 Election ballot, the committee was told to erase all information about her candidacy from the website. However, Elections firmly feels that there is no situation in which candidates, whether former or current, should be silenced or erased from Election information. As in all circumstances, Elections’ policy is to only edit and/or post candidate-written information with candidate permission. Therefore, with Sanders’ permission, we have posted the Q&A responses she completed prior to her removal.

Please describe your approach to conflict resolution.

I’d prefer to work through things as quickly as is feasible, in as direct a manner as possible, on as official a record as is available. There’s very little that’s a deal-breaker for me; we can disagree strongly about something one day and I’m still willing to work with you on something else the next. I tend to want to talk things out, and talk about feelings along with facts.

If the issue is between other people, I want to hear both sides before taking any other action. Fairness and avoiding double-standards is important to me, as is trying to find compromise and getting both sides to feel heard by giving them space to name their issues and look for common ground.

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?

In general, I think Board needs to stay out of it. Day to day management should not be Board’s job, and Board shouldn’t interfere with committee management. Chairs are there to manage their staff and volunteers, with support from VolCom. The only time I can see Board interceding in staff and volunteer issues is if something is escalated from the committee to VolCom and then to Board. The only people Board should directly manage are chairs.

My opinion is guided largely from experience. OTW has competent, skilled chairs, and VolCom has put strong policy in place to address staff and volunteer performance, approved and endorsed by the Board. In most instances, we can and should trust those policies and processes. The exception I see is any case where multiple levels of personnel are involved. I had an experience during my Board term that was just messy, with volunteers, staff, and co-chairs involved, which also impacted multiple committees. All attempts to intervene by chairs and then VolCom and the primary Board liaison for the committee from which the conflict originated failed because of the nature of the conflict and the sheer number of people involved. At that point, Board had no choice but to step in with continued assistance from VolCom and Legal.

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’ve witnessed it. I’ve been part of it. I think characterizing it as personal conflict, at least in my case, isn’t wholly accurate. It’s been conflict over our approaches to the work of the org, not along the line of personal issues, although I know people who’ve also faced those.

I think we have to, across the org, make a better effort to see each other as people and not just words on a screen. I think many of us lack in or run short on empathy when stressed or burnt out, and many of the staff and Board are both. Stepping back and evaluating what’s really important versus what’s just not that serious would help. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, checking that what we think we’re hearing is really what is being said, those are things that could fix the problem as well. We could also afford to start more conversations with offering solutions to the problems we see, not just rehashing those problems.

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 can’t really read this one as hypothetical because I’ve seen it happen too many times and I find it frustrating. I try to own up to it when I’m wrong and want to be held accountable for the things I do, and admit I’m not always successful at it but I’m constantly trying to do better. I’m hard on myself by nature and I don’t like hurting people. I fundamentally don’t understand people who can hurt someone without remorse or without being willing to take responsibility for it.

In the very real instances where I’ve seen a Director react with hostility toward a request, I’ve questioned it. I’ve gone as far as asking other Directors to remove themselves from a discussion due to their clear bias against a staff member. I have, when a Board member was overly harsh in a public setting, both offered my own apologies to that staff member in public and private, and encouraged the other Director to make their own apology.

There is little recourse, or there formerly was little recourse, for holding Board members accountable. I still don’t think the bylaws change allowing for the removal of a Director by other Directors will address this problem. I continue to think Board needs to be held to a CCAP of their own if not the general procedure. I think all I could do, all any other Director could do as things stand, is apologize on our own behalf and work with the person on the receiving end to maintain our own positive relationships.