Addressing problems with professional behavior

Begin with the individual
Whenever an incident occurs, the best course of action is to begin by trying to resolve it with the individual.  If there is a problematic or unsafe situation, then try to set up a safe environment to discuss the problem.  This may be by appointment at a later time, in a different and more public venue or with another neutral person’s assistance.  Rather than allowing a problem to escalate, this strategy often works to diffuse the situation.  Remember to listen, remain calm, and attempt to see the situation from the other person’s perspective.

Set up a mediated situation
If a one-on-one remedy does not result in a more professional situation, it is time to enlist some assistance.  Depending upon the circumstance, that may mean involving a department head or associate dean if it is a faculty colleague, a dean of students if it is a student, or a counselor if it is a community member.  Think about finding a neutral third set of eyes and ears to help diffuse and realign the situation.  Again a key behavior is to listen and try to see the situation through the other person’s eyes.

Utilize appropriate grievance processes
A human resources department may be able to assist with campus grievance policies, or a college may have a personnel committee to handle problems.  There may be student services personnel to help with a student grievance, or in the case of the CSU, there is a grievance process outlined by the faculty association.  Locate the appropriate grievance process to the situation at hand, and inform all participants of the process and attempt to reach consensus using the process.  These step-by-step procedures ensure that all parties have an opportunity to present their perspective to a neutral panel who will mediate the situation and come up with a solution or ruling on the matter.

Open communication is a key remedy to any difficult interpersonal or unprofessional behavior.  Recognizing that there are multiple perspectives on a situation will help resolve it.  Listening to others is a critical first step.  Being willing to compromise and accommodate is another.  There is no situation that improves through confrontation and unwillingness to listen.

Identifying Unprofessional Behavior

A Complementary Approach to Promoting Professionalism: Identifying, Measuring, and Addressing Unprofessional Behaviors
Hickson, G.B., Pichert, J.W., Webb, L.E. & Gabbe, S.G. (November, 2007). Academic Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 82, p. 1040-8
This article reviews the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine alternative supportive infrastructure approach to addressing unprofessional behaviors.

Boise State U. Study Finds Few Faculty Members Explicitly Teach Professional Behavior
News Blog (April 22, 2009). Chronicle of Higher Education
This study indicates many faculty believe professional behavior should be modeled but does not need to be taught.

Reporting Inappropriate Behavior

Student Help: Reporting Unprofessional Behavior and Mistreatment
UTMB Professionalism. Medical Branch, University of Texas
This site offers a process for negotiating unprofessional behavior.

Behavioral Code of Conduct
School of Medicine (June, 2007). Washington University of St. Louis
This site offers standards of expected behavior for faculty.

Grievance Filing Guide
California Faculty Association
This site explains the grievance process.

Strategies to Address Inappropriate Behavior

Mediation in Academia: Practicing What we Preach
Doelker, R.E., Jr. (September, 2007). Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2, p. 157-161
This article advocates use of conflict resolution for individuals or groups, and offers a model of mediation.

7 Tips for Resolving Conflicts Quickly and Peacefully
Hopson, S. (September, 2007). Pick the Brain blog
This site offers seven concrete steps to resolving conflicts.

Six Steps for Resolving Conflicts
Drew, N., Learning Peace website
This author of Hope and Healing offers a set of win / win guidelines for conflict resolution.

Strengthening Professionalism Through Humanistic Narratives
Thompson, G. & Arnold, L. (2009). School of Medicine, University of Missouri at Kansas City
This site contains stories of practice involving unprofessional behavior in a medical school setting. It is a collection of cases with questions to stimulate dialogue about ways to resolve the situation with compassion, understanding, and caring.

Faculty’s Unprofessional Behavior: How to Address It?
Rademacher, R., Arnold, L., Ledford, C. & Marcdante, K. (April, 2008). Central Group on Educational Affairs,
American Association of Medical Colleges. Columbus, Ohio

This powerpoint outlines the reality of unprofessional behavior in faculty, various disciplinary approaches including individual strategies, environment / culture strategies, and has a link to a process of strengthening professionalism through humanistic narratives.


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