Workplace Issues

Dealing with Difficult Situations

Receiving a Threat

If a member of the public threatens you or makes you feel unsafe, you should treat the threat as genuine and record as much information as possible for the police.

If the threat is in person:

  • Keep calm
  • End the conversation as soon as you can
  • Retreat to a safe place

If the threat is by telephone:

Prolong call – keep the person talking and ask:

  • Location of Bomb
  • Time set to explode
  • Do not replace the handset – enables call to be traced

If the threat is by letter:

  • Do not handle more than necessary
  • Where possible the item should be placed into a plastic pocket to preserve any physical evidence.

If an object is found:

  • Do not touch the object
  • Keep areas clear
  • Do not use mobile phones or other electronic equipment that may trigger a device – Turn off mobile phones
  • Alert your supervisor and the police
  • Be prepared to evacuate

Source: Monash University

Gifts

If a member of the public offers you a gift/bribe, you should politely refuse to accept the item, as it may be perceived to influence your decision/advice.

PIA’s Code of Conduct states that planners should:

“Disclose to their employees or clients any gifts, commissions or discounts received from or offered by any third parties in connection with their work as planners, and shall not accept any such gifts, commissions or discounts where their receipt may, or may be perceived to, influence their advice.”

If you are a PIA member, it may help to inform the person offering you a gift/bribe that you are bound by a Code of Conduct that does not permit you to accept gifts.

Pressure to change a recommendation

If you feel pressured to change a recommendation that you have made regarding a Development Application, you should try and consider why that person is pressuring you to change your recommendation.

Planner
If the person is a planner (either consultant planner or Council planner) and believes that you have got your recommendation wrong based on a planning argument, it would be worth listening to their point of view and reviewing why you made your decision.

After you have reviewed your decision, it may help to discuss the reasons for your decision with the other planner. If you both still disagree on what the recommendation should be, it is a good idea to consult your manager/team leader for their opinion.

Elected Member/CDAP Member

If you feel pressure from an Elected Member or CDAP Member to change your recommendation, it is important that you stay strong.

Your role as a Development Assessment Planner is to expertly guide Elected Members and CDAP Members on the relevant planning issues when deciding upon applications.

It is important to reiterate your role to the Elected Member/CDAP Member pressuring you to change your decision and explain that your decision is based on the Development Plan.

Applicant
If an applicant pressures you to change your recommendation, they may not understand the planning process. Try explaining that their application is seriously at variance with the Development Plan and as such, you cannot approve it.

Emphasise that you are limited in assessing any development proposal to only those matters that are contained within the relevant Development Plan - even where it would appear that a better outcome could be achieved.

Try offering the applicant helpful advice or suggestions as to how they could improve their application to be consistent with the Development Plan.

Member of the Public
If a member of the public pressures you to change your recommendation, they may not understand the planning process.

Try explaining that your decision is based on the Development Plan and as such, you cannot change your decision (explain that you don’t have a choice).

Emphasise that you are limited in assessing any development proposal to only those matters that are contained within the relevant Development Plan - even where it would appear that a better outcome could be achieved.

What if a member of the public threatens me?

If a member of the public threatens you or makes you feel unsafe, you should treat the threat as genuine and serious and notify your supervisor immediately.

See ‘Receiving a Threat’ on the Planning Practice page for more information.

What if a member of the public offers me a gift/bribe?

If a member of the public offers you a gift/bribe, you should politely refuse to accept the item, as it may be perceived to influence your decision/advice.

PIA’s Code of Conduct states that planners should:

“Disclose to their employees or clients any gifts, commissions or discounts received from or offered by any third parties in connection with their work as planners, and shall not accept any such gifts, commissions or discounts where their receipt may, or may be perceived to, influence their advice.”

If you are a PIA member, it may help to inform the person offering you a gift/bribe that you are bound by a Code of Conduct that does not permit you to accept gifts.

What if someone encourages me to change my recommendation?

If you feel pressured to change a recommendation that you have made regarding a Development Application, stay strong and remember that your role as a Development Assessment Planner is to expertly guide Elected Members, CDAP Members and the public.

Emphasise that you are limited in assessing any development proposal to only those matters that are contained within the relevant Development Plan - even where it would appear that a better outcome could be achieved.

For more information, see Pressure to Change a Recommendation.

Dealing with Conflict

Sources of Conflict

Conflict in the workplace can arise from numerous sources and generally falls into three categories: communication factors, structural factors and personal factors:

  • Communication factors can include poor listening skills, ignoring team members, wrongful interpretation and lack of sharing information. These can lead to many misunderstandings.
  • Structural factors can include disagreements relating to the size of the organization, levels of participation and reward systems.
  • Personal factors include problems that occur with an individual’s self-esteem, their personal goals, values and needs.

Conflict in the workplace commonly arises in the following areas:

  • Administration Procedures: If the team lacks good groundwork for what it’s doing, its members will not be able to coordinate their work.
  • People Resources: If the team does not have enough resources to do the job, it is inevitable that some will carry too heavy a load. Resentment, often unexpressed, may build.
  • Tight Timeframes: Timeframes should be highly visible to the whole team. All members should be willing to work together to help each other meet their deadlines.
  • Responsibilities: Each team member must know what areas are assigned and who is accountable for them.

Source: Tapscott, K (2008), ‘Conflict Resolution in Work Teams’, Tips 4 Teamwork

Pros and Cons of Conflict

Conflict can sometimes be positive as it can lead to the generation of a variety of ideas. In fact, a divergence of viewpoints can be celebrated as being a valuable asset to the ultimate goal of the planning team. Conflict can also give individuals the opportunity to develop their communication skills and express their personal thoughts to their team members.

Conflict becomes negative when it is left to escalate to the point where people begin to feel defeated. Planners can and should attempt to avoid negative conflict from occurring. Being aware of the potential for negative conflict to occur and taking the necessary steps to ensure good planning will help (Esquivel, M.A. & Kleiner, B.H. 1997, cited in Tapscott (2008)).
Source: Tapscott, K (2008), ‘Conflict Resolution in Work Teams’, Tips 4 Teamwork

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is paramount to a planning team’s success. Serious disagreement among team members can severely impact on the group’s ability to function successfully. Conflict is inevitable, so planners should prepare themselves with a number strategies for resolving conflict.

Varying circumstances necessitate any one of a multitude of approaches. When the best process is applied, the problem can be discarded and the important work of the planner can progress.

Source: Tapscott, K (2008), ‘Conflict Resolution in Work Teams’, Tips 4 Teamwork

See the Conflict Diagnosis table for some practical strategies for resolving different types of conflict.

Dealing with Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of everyday life. The main cause of stress is not an environment or event but your reaction to the environment or event. Each person’s reaction to a situation is unique. Therefore, it’s your individual emotional reaction to a stressful situation that will determine how you behave.

Stress can become debilitating physically, emotionally and mentally. It can also have a negative impact on relationships with colleagues and loved ones. Hence, it is important to develop coping strategies for dealing with stress. ‘Priority Management’ offer the following suggestions:

  • Take care of your health. Eat well. Get a good night's sleep.
  • Exercise daily. This needn't mean joining a gym, just a commitment to walk around the block before bed.
  • Look for relaxation techniques that personally appeal to you. Meditate, for example, get regular massages. Take up a hobby. Practice Tai Chi or Yoga.
  • Don't allow your frustration to build. Find ways to let off steam. Seek out a counsellor. Find a confidant who isn’t judgmental. Keep a journal. 
  • Take a little time for yourself every day, if only to sit in a warm bath or read a book unrelated to work. A walk in a forest or park or by a river or lake on the weekend can revitalise you.
  • Practice time management (see Time Management section). Organise systems at work and home for greater efficiency. Determine the things that waste time during the day and try to eliminate them.
  • Ask for help. It’s not to your employer’s advantage to have workers under chronic stress. Ask about employee assistance programs, stress management or time management training.
  • Take three deep breaths low and slow and think about nothing but your breathing. You can do this anywhere, anytime. It takes a couple of minutes and it works.

Finally, Keep perspective. Think about the cause of your stress and consider whether it is worth stressing about. Is it a life or death situation? If not, it’s probably not worth getting worked up about it.

For more information, see the Priority Management website.

Communicating With Technical Experts, Other Council Staff and the Public
Good communication skills are an essential ability for all planners. From dealing with the public at the front counter, working with colleagues and managers, to chairing a meeting or leading a focus group, planners utilise communication skills on a daily basis. Good ccommunication is a vital part of creating and maintaining a safe and efficient workplace environment. How you interact with staff and community members will affect how well the Council functions and how satisfying you find your job to be.

When communicating with others, take into consideration:

  • Who you are talking to (for example, a member of the public, a technical expert, a manager);
  • The type of information to be communicated (for example; confidential, good news/bad news, difficult technical information, instructions, general daily information); and
  • What the most appropriate type of communication to use is (for example; verbal, email, memo).

At all times, you should be respectful and polite to other Council staff and to members of the public. At no time should you raise your voice, swear, or speak in a manner that makes another person feel intimidated.

Cultural Awareness and Disability

Planners should be non-judgmental, respectful and tolerant when communicating with members of the public and internal staff. It is important to recognise that people come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures and as such, have a variety of different values, attitudes and beliefs.

When communicating with people from other backgrounds, take care to ensure that cultural differences in both verbal and nonverbal communication are considered.

If you are communicating with a member of the public who has a disability, you should be respectful, supportive and do your best to communicate with that person in spite of their disability. Remember, not all disabilities will be immediately obvious to you.  

It is always important to consider alternative methods of communication if appropriate, such as translators or voice recognition software.

Communication Tips:

Verbal communication

Verbal communication can be improved when:

  • It is clear and concise;
  • It is friendly and professional;
  • Appropriate feedback is given;
  • Active listening is used,
  • There is an awareness of non-verbal communication styles, and 
  • There is an understanding of cultural differences.

Written communication

Written communication should:

  • Be simple and easy to understand;
  • Be to the point and avoid unnecessary repetition;
  • Avoid too many technical terms; and
  • Avoid slang, offensive language and discriminatory, racist or sexist language.

Written communication, particularly emails, can be improved by:

  • Using polite and correct language;
  • Starting with a greeting, for example "Dear Jane", until you know the person well enough to be able to address the written communication as "Hi Jane";
  • Explaining yourself clearly;
  • Not using abbreviations in written communication; write all out in full; and
  • Ending the communication correctly saying "regards, Jane".

Remember that the person reading your written communication can’t see you so they can’t read your body language to see if you are joking, angry or serious.

Telephone use

Telephone use can be improved by:

  • Speaking clearly and at a speed that enables people to understand you;
  • Writing any information down as you are listening, as it is very easy to get off the phone and find you have forgotten who was speaking and what they wanted;
  • Always taking down someone’s contact phone number; and
  • Ending the telephone call with some kind of resolution for the person who rang, either getting the person with whom they wish to speak, taking a message for them, asking the person to ring back at a later time, solving the issue yourself or promising to call the person back once a solution has been resolved.