Oct 2 / Emma Broomfield

Raising concerns about the behaviour of another councillor

Working together for your community 

Cooperation and understanding between councillors are vital for a well-functioning elected body. However, there may come a time when a fellow councillor says or does something that upsets the apple cart. Knowing what to do in these circumstances, can be challenging. Do you speak up and call out the behaviour there and then? Do you have a quiet word afterwards to raise your concerns? Do you make a formal complaint about the behaviour? The right answer will depend on the context including your relationship with the fellow councillor and the seriousness of the behaviour.

Generally, the more serious the behaviour, the more formal the action. If the behaviour is a small incident (e.g. the tone of an email or an off-the-cuff remark in a council meeting), then it is possible that this could be resolved by an informal conversation. On the contrary, more serious behaviour such as bullying, sexual harassment, unethical or misuse of power is likely to warrant a more formal approach. If you have a poor relationship, then raising your concerns informally (even if minor) can be difficult as you are likely to be met with defensiveness and a closed mind. On the other hand, if you have established trust and rapport, it can be easier to open the door to a difficult conversation. 

In this blog, we will explore how to informally raise concerns with another councillor about their behaviour. We offer practical steps to ensure the conversation is both effective and constructive. This includes what to do before, during and after.

Preparing for the conversation 

First, take some time to gather your thoughts and clarify your goals for the conversation. Anticipate possible reactions and plan how you will respond. It can be helpful to write down your thoughts beforehand. The Engaged Feedback Checklist, by Brene Brown, is a helpful checklist to go through to make sure you are ready to give feedback with an open heart and mind. Once you are confident you are ready, then you can arrange a suitable time and place to talk. 

During the conversation

What you say and how you behave during the conversation will have a significant impact on whether the issue is resolved there and then. Remember, you cannot control how the other person behaves or what they say. So focus on the things that you can control.

Step 1: Frame the conversation positively

Start with a positive and respectful tone. Express your intention to resolve the issue, understand their perspective, and maintain a healthy relationship. It can also be helpful to approach the conversation with a shared objective. For example, the betterment of the council and the community it serves.

Step 2: Choose the right time and place

No one likes to have a difficult conversation sprung on them. Selecting an appropriate time and setting for the conversation is crucial. Choose a calm and private environment where both you and the other councillor can speak candidly and without distraction. This fosters a sense of trust and allows for an open exchange of ideas.

Step 3: Go with an open mind and heart

Before initiating the conversation, adopt an open-minded attitude. Be prepared to listen and consider the other councillor's perspective. Approach the discussion as an opportunity to gain insight into their point of view and motivations. Be prepared to be wrong or to have concerns raised about how you are behaving. 

Step 4: Focus on specific behaviour

When addressing concerns, concentrate on specific behaviours that are of concern. Provide specific examples that highlight the behaviour in question. Avoid making broad generalisations, as this can lead to misunderstandings and defensiveness. Be mindful of your tone and your language and that you are not making veiled accusations or threats. 

Step 5: Use constructive language

Frame your concerns using constructive language. Use "I" statements to express your thoughts and feelings without placing blame. For instance, say "I noticed that during our recent meeting..." instead of "You always do this in meetings..."

Step 6: Be prepared to listen

A key aspect of effective communication is active listening. Allow the other councillor to express their thoughts and feelings. Give them the space to share their perspective without interruption. This demonstrates respect and paves the way for a more collaborative dialogue.

Step 7: Explore the underlying issues

Ask open-ended questions that encourage you both to delve deeper into your motivations and reasons behind the behaviour. This can unveil underlying issues that might not be immediately apparent and can often reveal a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Or it can uncover that the person does not feel respected or heard or that they were simply having a bad day due to other stuff that is going on in their life.

Step 8: Emphasise the impact

During the conversation, emphasise the impact of their behaviour on the council's dynamics and productivity. Share your concerns about how it may affect teamwork, decision-making, and the community's perception of the council's effectiveness. 

Step 9: Focus on the future

Getting stuck in the past is a surefire way to entrench conflict. Approach the conversation with a focus on the future and what can be done differently. Give each other the opportunity to put forward ideas of how your relationship can change for the better. 

Step 10: Stay calm and manage your emotions

Finally, stay calm and keep your emotions in check. If you feel your emotions escalating, take deep breaths to stay composed and focused. Taking a sip of water can be a discrete and effective way to slow down and recalibrate in the moment. 

After the conversation

After the initial conversation, it is a good idea to check-in with your fellow councillor. If things didn't go quite as well as you'd hoped, then you may need an extra conversation to bring the issue to a conclusion or you may consider escalating your concerns into more formal action. If the conversation was constructive, pay attention to any positive changes and continue to take small steps to build rapport and trust.  

In summary, addressing concerns about the behaviour of other councillors requires self-awareness, sensitivity and courage. By approaching these discussions with an open heart and mind, and a genuine commitment to your community, you can effectively contribute to the good governance of your elected council.

To find out more about your options in addressing concerns about another councilllor's behaviour, watch the webinar with our Founder & Lead Facilitator, Emma Broomfield.

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