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Educating Managers: 10 Interpersonal Skills to Prevent Retaliation

Two men, in business attire, having a conversation over coffee.

There are 10 interpersonal skills that can help managers navigate the emotional terrain and behavioral traps once an employee engages the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) process. These skills can help managers to side-step the possibility of responding with retaliation.

Interpersonal (people) skills are related to the way we communicate and interact with people. When you manage an employee who opposes discrimination or participates in an EEO case, remember:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Avoiding this cliché is easier said than done, so contact the EEO counselor of the case to understand why the employee filed the complaint. Ask the counselor about remedies identified by the employee. Think about the possible underlying issues to develop a perspective on the employee’s issues.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings of disappointment, resentment, and shock when you discover you were listed as the Responsible Management Official (RMO) in an EEO case. Those are normal feelings.
  3. Discuss your feelings about being named the RMO with your supervisor or someone in the chain of command. Avoid discussing the issue with anyone else outside of your chain of command.
  4. If issues involve a disciplinary action, avoid a punitive outlook. Rather, work with Human Resources/Employee Relations to anticipate the outcomes and explore potential opportunities to improve the relationship with the employee.
  5. Don’t avoid meeting and conversing with the employee about business issues. Try not to associate the EEO complaint with the employee’s competency or work ethic. Continue working with the employee on performance goals and projects. Don’t avoid talking about the EEO complaint if the employee initiates the discussion. Never challenge the employee about filing the case or the specifics of the complaint. Wait to address questions and concerns with the EEO Counselor during Traditional Counseling or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) with a mediator.
  6. During Traditional Counseling or ADR, listen to understand before attempting to make your point to be understood. This effort alone will reduce defensiveness and move the process toward resolution.
  7. Avoid conversational pitfalls that sabotage the employee and manager relationship such as: "When did I ever treat you unfairly?" "Why did you file on me?" "I thought you would have come to me before filing an EEO complaint." "You really don’t have a case." "Can we just put this behind us?"
  8. Be self- reflective. Think about what may be driving your employee’s perceptions and why they may have filed an EEO complaint. Did I fail to communicate the rationale behind my decisions? Does the employee not feel supported by me? Do I treat the employee with respect? Am I showing favoritism towards other employees? Oftentimes, employees’ perceptions are formed due to a failure of the manager to communicate their rationale for decisions. Lack of communication results in employees creating their own story, which will tend not to give the benefit of the doubt to management.
  9. Be aware of body language and facial expressions when talking with the employee. Body language that conveys negativity are folded arms, facial grimacing, non-responsiveness, finger pointing or tapping, not allowing a person to complete their statement before going on the defense to make your point, over talking the speaker, only focusing on your agenda, and assuming only a "win or lose" outcome.
  10. The last and most effective interpersonal skill is effective listening. Learn to listen to what employees say. This means to not merely acknowledge what they talk about, but how the inflection of their voice changes when they talk about specific issues. Trying to find out what they feel is important. Learn what motivates the employee in general and find out what drew them to the type of work they do.

Simply put, including employees in the day-to-day operations of the workplace is not enough. Employees must be validated as integral parts of the team. They have to be acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."

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