Rules of Engagement
/ Author: Geoff Dueck Thiessen
/ Categories: Blogs, Newsletters, National /
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Rules of Engagement

Meaningful consultation isn’t weak, boring, or a waste of time. It’s the key to winning

By Geoff Dueck Thiessen, Regional Director, Winnipeg Member Centre

Throughout my career as a union representative, manager, colleague, and executive team member, I’ve become more convinced that consultation is one of the most important things to do, and the most easily overlooked.

Primarily, CLAC representatives want members to feel engaged and valued in the workplace, and a good way to do this is through a meaningful consultation process. And believe it or not, most union reps would prefer to be invited by employers to give input prior to making big decisions, over possibly filing grievances when members react negatively to those big decisions.

When we fail to consult, we are sending the message that we do not need or value the opinion and input of others. And this creates an important contradiction: I value you enough to employ you and I trust you with my resources and clients, but I don’t value you enough to ask you for your input before I make a decision that impacts you.

Of course, very few managers would think those thoughts out loud. Rather, they likely have a different story, one hinging on the following roadblocks:

  1. Personality – Some personalities struggle to consult for some pretty simple reasons. People who prefer introversion process information internally and can easily miss opportunities to consult with others simply because it takes energy to consult, or extrovert, with others to gain perspective. Similarly, people who prefer to make decisions and drive for closure can become frustrated by the consultation process because it slows things down, introducing unknown factors that can make the pathway to completion less predictable.
  2. The wrong idea about leadership – Some leaders strive for positions of leadership because they believe they have the answers and deserve their position. These leaders can easily feel threatened by the input of others. Other leaders feel pressure to perform because they believe leaders need to have the answers to be credible, that seeking answers from others shows weakness and incompetence. But in the same way that apologizing and crying can show strength, not weakness, so does consulting. A leader who consults meaningfully with the team earns the team’s respect and trust. A leader who shuts the team out earns the team’s distrust and resentment.
  3. Scarcity of resources – When a workplace is underfunded and understaffed, meaningful consultation seems like a luxury. And so we get used to the problem we have—a low level of employee engagement seems affordable when we’re used to it. The question we need to ask is whether we will be further ahead in the long run by dedicating more resources to set aside time to really listen to the team. Because higher engagement through consulting can lead to better decisions and lower employee costs such as turnover and sick time.

Perhaps the easiest way to overcome these barriers is to apply the golden rule: treat others like you want to be treated. So, if I appreciate it when others seek my input before making a decision, especially if that decision will impact me, then I should be able to recognize that others want the same thing from me.

What does meaningful consultation look like?

  1. A good invitation – Asking someone for their input should include setting clear expectations about why they are being asked and to what degree their input might influence the decision. It should also happen well enough in advance so they can provide a good response. Asking someone to a meeting and telling them about a decision you’re making is not effective consultation.
  2. Effective listening – This may sound like common sense, but it’s not a common skill. If you really want to hear someone’s ideas, resist the urge to argue them out of their ideas. Rather, spend time with those ideas and make sure that you understand the ideas and show that you understand the ideas. I’ve also heard from CLAC members that during the most difficult times of the pandemic, being listened to has been key to giving them the strength to endure the sustained, high stress levels, and to giving them a small sense of control.
  3. Follow up – There is very little that’s more frustrating than to be asked your opinion only to see your opinion either disregarded entirely or, worse, have someone else take credit for it. People love follow up. It doesn’t take long to reconnect with the team to thank them for their input and give an explanation for why the final decision was made.

Before making decisions, the first step should be to ask, who else needs to have input here? Taking the time to meaningfully consult with others when making decisions that affect them lets them know that you value their input and opinion. It treats them how you would like to be treated. And it’s key to a winning formula.

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