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Difficult colleagues


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This is not a specifically educational topic, but I would welcome advice from some of you who have obviously been involved with meetings in "high places". And also from an objective and removed perspective.

As I have already mentioned, I was recently elected state president of our teachers' union here. It was the most hotly contested election in our union's history, with 8 candidates. I was endorsed by our previous president. Four of the unsuccessful candidates are still on our 16 person executive board which I now chair. I am not highly experienced in this level of management, but am trying to do my best for everybody. Three of the unsuccessfuls have taken events sensibly and are being perfectly civilised. One, a woman, who was (unbelievably) so convinced that she was going to win, that when she didn't, apparently burst into tears at her workplace and has been ever since telling our members that I only won because I received the endorsement of the president and because she was "too honest". Now, all that would be fine and I could handle, if she hadn't decided to get her revenge by underminding me at every opportunity she gets, criticising almost everything I do as publicly as she can, and causing constant upheaval at our board meetings. I have the support of 99% of the others, and the total support of the union staff, but despite the best efforts of all of these people, she continues to make every second Monday a nightmare for me. I have tried various tactics, but to no avail. What would you do in the same situation? I would just be interested to hear from anyone who has dealt with these sort of people before.

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I'm very reluctant to give any kind of advice - what do I really know about your situation? I've been in this sort of situation myself, though, and the only thing which seems to work is to bring the problem out into the open. What I think this would mean is that you'd have to convene a meeting of your board, where you only had one item on the agenda: the climate of debate and co-operation within the board.

It'd be important *not* to frame the problem as: this woman's behaviour. And it'd be important to make statements like "When you say X, or when you question my authority by saying Y, I experience it like this …", rather than ones like "You criticise me unfairly" or "Why don't you stop whining and trying to undermine me". It'd also be important to get the other members of the board to state what they feel too, so that you all know where you stand.

It strikes me that, as President, you're in quite a strong position. You're the one who was actually elected, when it comes down to it. Swedish industrial relations experts generally feel, though, that there is no solution in the long run to a total breakdown of relations and trust between people in a workplace, other than dissolution. In other words, someone has to go! (This is why most such disputes at Swedish workplaces end up with someone being paid large sums of money to quit - which is almost certainly not an option for you!).

Julian Edge's "Co-operative Development" has proved exceptionally useful to me in sorting out conflicts between colleagues. The original book is now out of print, but Julian has published it on the web at:

http://www.les.aston.ac.uk/lsu/staff/je/CD/

Hope this is useful …

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It strikes me that you actually have nothing to fear from this woman if you have the level of support that you indicate from the rest of the executive board. The fact that you were fairly elected by those eligible to vote is what a democtatic process is all about. Endorsement from the outgoing president may seem, by some, to be advantageous but that assumes that the electorate have no minds of their own! Hardly the case amongst professional educators surely?

Ignore the bitchy attitude and just get on with the job. You are all there to work together on a common goal but it doesn't mean you will all agree over everything, and it wouldn't be a healthy situation if you did. You will never please everyone so stop trying! If this woman sees she is getting to you she has won - she is trying to make this a personal matter rather than a professional one. Remain the professional and rise above this unprofessional behaviour. You are the union president and she will have to get used to it. She can't change the vote can she? B)

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Thanks for those ideas. I appreciate it. I suppose I came home last night particularly annoyed with what I'd had to put up with all day and just wanted to get it off my chest to someone "out there". I feel better for reading your supportive advice and intend to "rise above it" at least for the time being and see what happens. If nothing changes then I might need to go the harder line. I guess it's been a tough lesson in going from being "just" a classroom teacher (and ex-Board member) to head of a quite large organisation. All the previous presidents have been Principals, so I'm in a fairly unusual position and some of the "losers" were at a much higher level than me, and I guess have chosen to take it badly. I have also had this attitude from our Minister who is a very young woman and not used to dealing with a) older women and B) someone who has "jumped up" from the ranks. It's causing interesting scenarios about popwer and hierarchies!!

Again thank you. It's nice to have friends in outer space!! If anyone else wants to add any other suggestions, feel free.

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