Can workers refuse to declare health changes?
I am reminded of an injury management challenge some years ago when a 62 year old factory operator strained his back, went to his doctor and got a certificate for time off. The Operations Manager and I rang to talk to him, and the worker was very hostile and didn't want to talk to us. He didn't want to come in to meet with us. When we offered to come to his house, he said he would set the dogs on us! I suddenly remembered advice from negotiations training and remembered the tip for breaking a stalemate - I asked him what it would take for him to talk with us. He asked if he could have his union rep there, and of course we said yes.
When he finally came to talk with us, we eventually unravelled the defensive "firewall". He was going to have knee replacement surgery in a few months, and with that and his age, he was very afraid that the manager was just going to fire him and get someone younger and more fit to do the job! After his initial adrenalised and defensive response subsided, he also eventually admitted that he has been suspicious because of how managers in the past had treated him.
That's a slightly long story, but here are some of the most important lessons I learned from that experience:
- Find out what's behind the person's resistance - it's usually much deeper and more complex than it looks on the surface. In general, everyone is trying to get some need met - find out what the real need is, rather than guessing or projecting. And don't judge - there will be a reason for their perspectives. Sometimes it can even be a situational distortion due to fear and the adrenaline it generates.
- Don't take it personally - sometimes people are actually just venting and often just acting on past experience that has nothing to do with you. It only becomes personal if you make it so.
- If both parties adopt a fixed position, the discussion is very likely to get stuck. Among the principles of my own training is the maxim that the party with the most flexibility / adaptability will ultimately prevail.
- If negotiations get stuck, ask the other party what they need and work on a solution from there.
- Sometimes it takes a bit of time, discussion and various iterations to resolve an issue - be patient, and stay present. As long as you are still in the conversation, you can still influence the outcomes.
- Listen with the intent to genuinely hear the other person and work together for a win-win solution.