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Conflicting ideas

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Conflict is drama.  Think of any action movie or television series you have watched or any exciting book you have read and you will see that without conflict between the main protagonists there would be no story.  Nor, were that conflict not to be resolved by fair means or foul, would there be any satisfactory ending.  In other words, a dramatic tale needs a conflict arising at the beginning followed by the plot action where the conflict is carried out and at the conclusion, a settlement of one sort or another.  THE END.

And whilst fiction is always exaggerated drama and larger-than-life situations, this is only a heightened realism because we all deal with conflict, in our private lives and in the workplace, on a daily basis;  ,”and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are”, according to Stephen Moyer .If you asked me where I feel I am the weakest as a leader I would have to answer that it is in such conflict and drama situations.

It is something that I absolutely hate, which is not surprising because most people would describe conflict in negative terms.   Of course, professionally I don’t mind others’ conflict situations, in fact i love helping resolve them whether it’s an industrial relations issue or a pay dispute but when it comes to something embroiling me and involving me directly – I sometimes feel reduced to a little boy in the playground who is being shouted down and bullied.

This is hardly a good feeling to have if I consider that I have had more business conflicts to deal with in the last 2 years than at any time before but, as someone close to me remarked, maybe that is because you are now prepared to deal with them. Like most of us faced with conflict our psyche seeks to resolve it. We either avoid it or conclude it, any which way we can and as quickly as possible, often to our detriment. We act in haste to stop the feeling of it hanging over our head like the fabled Damoclean sword.

Why in certain conflict situations do I experience my heart rate increasing, throat closing and my mouth becoming drier than Ghandhi’s flip-flops and how can I stop this?  Let me give you a recent example of a client who simply didn’t want to pay her bill. Did you ever buy something and then regret it because it really wasn’t what you wanted or needed or was ready for? If you can relate to that then you have the basis for this story.

The client had browsed our service options, made her selection, was delivered of her choice of services and was duly invoiced.  A problem then arose.  She decided she no longer valued the services but of course a service is not something that can be returned like a pair of ill-fitting shoes.  She has had her cake and eaten it and now she owes me money for the gateau but refuses to pay.  Ergo, we are in conflict.

The reasons given for non-payment are endless (and ever changing);  the run around we have been given will go down in our client history file as legendary and simply put this is someone who feels that we should have done work for them for free – and of course the world of work does not work like this.

From our company side we have maintained professionalism, have played by the book and in no way have done anything wrong (even though the client feels they got “diddly squat” – charming I know). With this client I have been reasonable, yet the client has been far from so – broken promises, lack of communication, arrogantly expecting our labour for nothing. I know that I am in the right and yet, even with this belief in my moral position, I feel tormented that we are in dispute and on the back foot as I feel my panic rising when I must argue for payment.

According to an HBR article this could be attributed to some stage in my life or career, when I may have got burned by conflict, and felt humiliated or criticized. Due to this, I may choose to accommodate the other party so that I don’t have to feel this way again and this is why I may choose safety, amity, and harmony over the difficult conversation, speaking up or standing my ground.

When the author Amy Jen Su asked her clients why they don’t want to have difficult conversations, she said it usually comes down to fear of experiencing those emotions again, even though their careers and life stages have advanced exponentially since those salad days. “Many have an “a-ha” moment when they realize they’re no longer that younger version of themselves; they’re now a more seasoned, experienced person with new skills and know-how.  As one client recently put it, “I’m still behaving as if I’m that second-year associate who got shouted-down by the senior partner for pushing back. But I’m now the general counsel of this organization.” 

With this in mind I realise that when I think of nice guy Stuart having to handle this, I am a prisoner of my own insecurity and background but when I put my impersonal CEO hat on and play that role I feel immediately able to think more clearer without contaminating my thoughts with what may have happened to me before. I realise that when I avoid conflict it is because I am putting the focus on me and with this narrow perspective I realise that my concern is about how others will perceive me. 

William James said that “whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”  So I need to remind myself that it is not about me – it’s business, pure and simple!
When I take away my fear, concentrate on what the business needs and put my best CEO hat on I have miraculously removed my worst self from the situation and brought forward my best self.

I am then left to answer such questions as “What would the organisation, clientele or shareholders say about this situation, and what does the business need?  Now I can answer objectively and with clarity.  When I say she owes me money I realise that this is inaccurate and unhelpful because I put the sensitive and defensive me in it instead of the inanimate object – in truth she owes the business money. When I deal with it from a business and professional perspective there is no baggage – just business rules and moral guidelines.  And reneging on a legitimate debt breaches all those rules and ethics.  Lady, I’m not the problem here – you are!

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Is COVID-19 Flogging an Already Dead Economic Horse?

9th September 2020

The Central Bank has by way of its Monetary Policy Statement informed us that the Botswana economy is likely to contract by 8.9 percent over the course of the year 2020.

The IMF paints an even gloomier picture – a shrinkage of the order of 9.6 percent.  That translates to just under $2 billion hived off from the overall economic yield given our average GDP of roughly $18 billion a year. In Pula terms, this is about P23 billion less goods and services produced in the country and you and I have a good guess as to what such a sum can do in terms of job creation and sustainability, boosting tax revenue, succouring both recurrent and development expenditure, and on the whole keeping our teeny-weeny economy in relatively good nick.

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Union of Blue Bloods

9th September 2020

Joseph’s and Judah’s family lines conjoin to produce lineal seed

Just to recap, General Atiku, the Israelites were not headed for uncharted territory. The Promised Land teemed with Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These nations were not simply going to cut and run when they saw columns of battle-ready Israelites approach: they were going to fight to the death.

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Security Sector Private Bills: What are they about?

9th September 2020

Parliament has begun debates on three related Private Members Bills on the conditions of service of members of the Security Sector.

The Bills are Prisons (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Police (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and Botswana Defence Force (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Bills seek to amend the three statutes so that officers are placed on full salaries when on interdictions or suspensions whilst facing disciplinary boards or courts of law.

In terms of the Public Service Act, 2008 which took effect in 2010, civil servants who are indicted are paid full salary and not a portion of their emolument. Section 35(3) of the Act specifically provides that “An employee’s salary shall not be withheld during the period of his or her suspension”.

However, when parliament reformed the public service law to allow civil servants to unionize, among other things, and extended the said protection of their salaries, the process was not completed. When the House conferred the benefit on civil servants, members of the disciplined forces were left out by not accordingly amending the laws regulating their employment.

The Bills stated above seeks to ask Parliament to also include members of the forces on the said benefit. It is unfair not to include soldiers or military officers, police officers and prison waders in the benefit. Paying an officer who is facing either external or internal charges full pay is in line with the notion of ei incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat or the presumption of innocence; that the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies.

The officers facing charges, either internal disciplinary or criminal charges before the courts, must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Paying them a portion of their salary is penalty and therefore arbitrary. Punishment by way of loss of income or anything should come as a result of a finding on the guilt by a competent court of law, tribunal or disciplinary board.

What was the rationale behind this reform in 2008 when the Public Service Act was adopted? First it was the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

The presumption of innocence is the legal principle that one is considered “innocent until proven guilty”. In terms of the constitution and other laws of Botswana, the presumption of innocence is a legal right of the accused in a criminal trial, and it is an international human right under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.

Withholding a civil servant’s salary because they are accused of an internal disciplinary offense or a criminal offense in the courts of law, was seen as punishment before a decision by a tribunal, disciplinary board or a court of law actually finds someone culpable. Parliament in its wisdom decided that no one deserves this premature punishment.

Secondly, it was considered that people’s lives got destroyed by withholding of financial benefits during internal or judicial trials. Protection of wages is very important for any worker. Workers commit their salaries, they pay mortgages, car loans, insurances, schools fees for children and other things. When public servants were experiencing salary cuts because of interdictions, they lost their homes, cars and their children’s future.

They plummeted into instant destitution. People lost their livelihoods. Families crumbled. What was disheartening was that in many cases, these workers are ultimately exonerated by the courts or disciplinary tribunals. When they are cleared, the harm suffered is usually irreparable. Even if one is reimbursed all their dues, it is difficult to almost impossible to get one’s life back to normal.

There is a reasoning that members of the security sector should be held to very high standards of discipline and moral compass. This is true. However, other more senior public servants such as judges, permanent secretary to the President and ministers have faced suspensions, interdictions and or criminal charges in the courts but were placed on full salaries.

The yardstick against which security sector officers are held cannot be higher than the aforementioned public officials. It just wouldn’t make sense. They are in charge of the security and operate in a very sensitive area, but cannot in anyway be held to higher standards that prosecutors, magistrates, judges, ministers and even senior officials such as permanent secretaries.

Moreover, jail guards, police officers and soldiers, have unique harsh punishments which deter many of them from committing misdemeanors and serious crimes. So, the argument that if the suspension or interdiction with full pay is introduced it would open floodgates of lawlessness is illogical.

Security Sector members work in very difficult conditions. Sometimes this drives them into depression and other emotional conditions. The truth is that many seldom receive proper and adequate counseling or such related therapies. They see horrifying scenes whilst on duty. Jail guards double as hangmen/women.

Detectives attend to autopsies on cases they are dealing with. Traffic police officers are usually the first at accident scenes. Soldiers fight and kill poachers. In all these cases, their minds are troubled. They are human. These conditions also play a part in their behaviors. They are actually more deserving to be paid full salaries when they’re facing allegations of misconduct.

To withhold up to 50 percent of the police, prison workers and the military officers’ salaries during their interdiction or suspensions from work is punitive, insensitive and prejudicial as we do not do the same for other employees employed by the government.

The rest enjoy their full salaries when they are at home and it is for a good reason as no one should be made to suffer before being found blameworthy. The ruling party seems to have taken a position to negate the Bills and the collective opposition argue in the affirmative. The debate have just began and will continue next week Thursday, a day designated for Private Bills.

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