Dealing with misunderstandings

Misunderstandings and conflicts arise between customers and workers or between workers and colleagues for many different reasons. These misunderstandings usually occur just because people are different and have different views. Difficulties may occur due to poor communication, a lack of patience or because people make judgements based on their own cultural values.

Many misunderstandings are based on cultural differences. Something that may seem perfectly fine to an Australian, may be offensive to people of other cultures. For example: In Japan it is considered rude to not slurp while eating a meal but in Australia and other western cultures it is considered rude or annoying to slurp your food while eating.



Respect when responding to conflict

When responding to conflicts it is important to show respect and understanding as conflict situations are difficult to handle at the best of times. Displaying arrogance or lack of respect for the people involved can make things worse.

Some ways to show respect when responding to conflicts:

  • Speak clearly and calmly, do not raise your voice or be aggressive in any way.
  • Show respect to the person by listening to them and what they have to say and do not interrupt.
  • Discuss the matter in a private place so people feel free to say what is on their mind and are not going to be embarrassed in front of other staff or guests.
  • Do not argue with the person, this often makes people even more angry.
  • Be sensitive to the person’s needs and respect that their feelings are true.
  • Do not discuss a conflict or problem about any staff members with anyone who is not involved in resolving the issue.
  • Be honest. If a manager lies to the employee, it usually leads to mistrust and can cause more problems,
  • Be polite.
  • Be inclusive.


Language barriers

A language barrier usually happens in business and outside of business when people from different countries are trying to communicate but both parties may have limited language skills. In business were a lot of workers come from different countries, they are bound to run into some language barriers. In these cases, it is important to be patient and use gestures or simple words that the other person will be able to understand.

Below are other ways to help when these issues occur:

  • Where possible try to use simple common words.
  • Speak slower than normal and pronounce the words clearly
  • Often people try and lip read, Face the person and don’t cover your mouth.
  • Speak at a normal clear volume; speaking louder does not help people understand.
  • Avoid slang words.
  • Use the full words. For example, instead of saying ‘you’ve’, say ‘you have’
  • Avoid filler words such as “Like” “You know’ and “Um”.
  • Be explicit and say “Yes” of “No” rather than “Uh-huh” or “Yeah”.
  • Avoid touching as it may come across as aggressive or inappropriate.
  • Smile and be friendly.
  • Listen and pay attention where they are attempting to communicate with you.
  • Show respect and don’t talk down to them.
  • Use hand gestures or signs such as three fingers to represent the number three.


Workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is when a person is verbally, physically, socially or psychologically hurt by their employer or manager, another person or group of people at work. Typically, people who bully others at work or at school often have low self-esteem or have been a victim of bullying themselves. Bullies are often dealing with their own problems and use physical or phycological abuse as an outlet. Jealousy, lack of knowledge, fear and misunderstanding can also motivate bullies.

Being a victim of bullying can affect you in different ways. You can become less productive, lack confidence in your work, begin to feel scared or anxious, outside work relationships can be affected, lack trust in your employer and can even develop physical symptoms like headaches and sleep problems.

It is not workplace bulling if a manager can make decisions about poor performance, take disciplinary action, and direct and control the way work is carried out.

Physical abuse can include: 

  • Pushing, shoving, tripping and grabbing
  • punching and kicking
  • Scratching and biting or intentionally spitting in the direction of another person
  • Attacking or threatening with a physical object
  • Any form of sexual harassment
  • Initiation or hazing

Phycological and social bullying can include: 

  • Verbal abuse or jeering directed at you.
  • Excluding or isolating you.
  • Phycological harassment.
  • Purposely intimidating you.
  • giving you pointless jobs that is not relevant to your job.
  • giving you impossible jobs. For example giving you a big job to do in an impossible time limit.
  • Deliberate changing your work roster to make it difficult for you.
  • Deliberately holding back information you need to get your work done properly.

Your rights

Employers and employees have duties by law (Work Health and Safety Acts) to comply with and have measures in place to promote health and safety within the workplace and not to put them or their colleagues at risk.

What you can do if you are being bullied at work

When you feel that you are being bullied, ensure that you take it up with your supervisor or higher management. There are always options and people to help resolve this problem.

If you are being bullied you can:

  • Find out what your workplaces policies and procedures are for preventing and handling bullying.
  • Document everything that happens. It is a great idea to keep a diary as this can help if you make a formal complaint.
  • Seek external information and advice, such as legal information from the union representing your industry or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. These organisations can give you advice on your options and your rights. You can also ask them to act on your behalf if you do not feel comfortable in doing so. They should also respect your confidentiality; though if you are concerned about this, ask them what their responsibilities are.
  • Tell someone. This can either be a Human Resource Manager or your supervisor/manager or employer. The situation might be able to be resolved informally, without any official complaint being made.
  • If the situation continues or is serious, you might need to make a formal (written) complaint that follows company procedure. The person doing the bullying might be officially warned, and be required to have counselling. If the bullying continues, there might be a mediation process and, if all else fails, the person bullying might be fired. If you end up having to leave, you might be eligible for outstanding wages and entitlements.
  • If the person doing the bullying is your employer or they do not do anything to stop it, it is important you get outside support and advice.


Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is harassment that is of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can be between any genders, management to staff, staff to management, among staff members, from customers to staff and staff to customers.

Sexual harassment may be characterised by:

  • May be repeated behaviour or a single incident.
  • An unwanted behaviour, if there is a consensual relationship or behaviour between people, then that is unlikely to be sexual harassment.
  • The intent of the person is not important – Even if the person did not intend to sexually harass another person it can still be sexual harassment.
  • Behaviour that a reasonable person in the circumstances would have anticipated that the other person may be offended humiliated, intimidated or threatened.

Examples of sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances or touching
  • Requests for sexual favours
  • Workplace favours or promotions in exchange for sex
  • Unwelcome sexual conduct
  • Sexually explicit material on display in a workplace
  • Staring, leering or perving on a person in a sexual way
  • Questioning a person about their sexual activity or preferences
  • Sexual or physical contact
  • Repeated sexual invitations
  • Sexually explicit jokes or cartoons
  • Sexually offensive gestures
  • Unwelcome wolf whistling

Who is responsible?

We are all responsible for our own behaviour; whether that be in the workplace, at home or in society in general. However, employers and managers are ‘Vicariously Liable’. Being vicariously liable means that the employers and management are responsible for what happens in the workplace and for the conduct of its employees. So, legally an employer is required to provide a workplace that is free of harassment including sexual harassment. If a workplace ignores reports of bullying and harassment, the workplace and those involved can be charged.


Levels of conflict

There are several stages of conflict. Usually, a conflict will move through a range of different levels before reaching a crisis. You can avoid the crisis stage by learning the warning signs and promptly using corrective measures to resolve the issue.