"Elegant challenging and choosing your time and place" by Dr Neil Thompson

Life is never without its challenge, but there is always the opportunity to learn and grow from those demands made on us. Dr Neil Thompson offers advice to tackle these problems and help social workers and care professionals to realise their potential.

04/02/22

"Elegant challenging and choosing your time and place" by Dr  Neil Thompson

When people act or speak in discriminatory ways, bully people or behave disrespectfully towards others, it can be very tempting to ‘have a go’ at them, to give them a piece of your mind.

While that reaction is quite understandable, it can be highly problematic.

This is because there is a danger that the person who is behaving irresponsibly will see you as the unreasonable one, to see you as the person who is behaving inappropriately. This can just make a difficult situation worse.

‘Elegant’ challenging, by contrast, refers to challenging inappropriate behaviour tactfully and sensitively, so that you are giving the other person no ammunition to fire back at you.

Skilfully pointing out why what somebody has said or done is problematic is much less likely to produce a defensive response and is therefore much more likely to be effective.

Sometimes there are sensitive issues that need to be addressed – for example, pointing out to someone that their behaviour is causing you (or others) problems or is contrary to law or policy.

Bringing this to their attention in front of other people or when feelings are running high (if their behaviour has caused annoyance, for example) can mean that they lose face and can feel ‘got at’.

This can not only make the situation worse by antagonizing them, but could also potentially lead to a complaint of bullying, on the grounds that your behaviour was humiliating and contrary to their dignity.

It is important not to shy away from sensitive issues, but we do have to make sure that we deal with them in the right place and at the right time.

Dr Neil Thompson is an independent writer, educator and adviser and a visiting professor at the Open University. His books include How to Survive in Social Work (with John McGowan) and The Managing Stress Practice Manual. He is also the Vice President of Vigoroom UK, a sophisticated employee wellness platform designed to help create happier and healthier workplaces: www.vigoroom.co.uk.

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