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Dave Hill – Speaker, Trainer, Author, & Speech Coach. Photo by NOAA

It was July 1986, at about two o’clock in the morning. I was on an Irish ship as chief engineer officer. The ship had left Morocco on the North coast of Africa with a full cargo of oranges. I was not in a deep sleep, as the ship was being thrown around by the waves and there was the continuous crashing and banging of pots and pans and other bits and pieces being ejected from their storage areas.

Beside my bunk were my working coveralls laid out on the floor with my boots. They were there in readiness of emergencies that would regularly happen in the ship engine room. I had been on the ship for several months, and got used to the regular, “Chief, come quickly” urgent requests summoning me to the engine room where equipment breakdowns and emergencies were frequent. The pounding on the door this early morning was different; it was overly aggressive.

I was immediately alert from my sleep. The chief officer switched on my light, and with a furrowed brow, he exclaimed, “I need your help to take over the ship from the captain!” He was in fact asking me to embark on a mutiny, an act that could result in losing my officer credentials and destroy my career.

The ship was in a notoriously bad area north of Africa called the Bay of Lions, carrying oranges in its refrigerated cargo holds. The Bay of Lions was living up to its reputation, and there was a howling storm outside. Our ship was taking a hammering, and was rolling precariously on its course towards Marseilles, France. The waves were hitting us side on, and the engine was screaming as the ship lurched when hit by a large wave. The propeller would come near the surface of the sea. I arrived quickly on the bridge of the ship where the captain was staggering around with blood on his face from a fall. When I asked the drunken captain what was going on, I received a vacant glance. The chief officer exclaimed that the ship was in danger, and that we needed to immediately change course and seek shelter.

With my heart beating nervously, I agreed and as the second most senior officer on the ship, I had the captain escorted from the bridge. The seriousness of the storm became apparent the next day when it was determined that we had a damaged rudder bearing. The subsequent dry-dock also showed that the thick metal plating on the bow of the ship had been “pushed in” by the force of the waves. The day following the mutiny, I went to the captain’s office to discuss the events of the early morning and try and get a feel for the consequences. I knocked and entered to see him stealthily try and hide his “breakfast beer”.

What did I learn from this? This was probably a marking point in my career, a point where my instinct told me to do the right thing, no matter what the consequence. As my career progressed and transitioned to different industries, I have maintained ethics that will allow me to weather any storm, be it on a ship, on a land-based engineering organization, or in a corporate office.

a. Employees are distracted and productivity suffers
b. Stress levels result in motivation and self esteem being impacted
c. Absenteeism and high turnover erode profits
d. Loss of respect and trust
e. Deadlines get missed
f. Workplace safety may be compromised

Note: The variables of managerial personalities, workplace culture, and specific scenarios make this difficult to identify hard and fast success strategies. The following are offered with the understanding that circumstances may dictate that some are more effective than others in your working environment
1) Bring the issue to the table once the emotional levels are conducive to respectful communication. Take into consideration whether it is a one-time mistake or a behavioral issue
2) Listen to the managers points of view and empathize honestly without patronizing
3) A positive attitude will give you a head start in conflict management
4) Do not dwell on past conflict; it increases your stress levels, deal with the issue at hand
5) Make an effort to surround yourself with upbeat, positive attitude, lighthearted people. Don’t spiral into destructive negativity.
6) Do not get sucked into groups whose conversations resound of negativity and continuous criticism of management and the company
7) Determine if you really want to work in this kind of destructive management environment. Is the rest of the job good enough that you can put up with this trade-off?

8) Use humor where appropriate to lighten up the situation – taking into consideration the temperament of the manager
9) Talk to the manager privately, and clearly state the problem and how it makes you feel.
10) Involve Human Resources or your managers boss when the circumstances dictate a need to elevate the issue (this may be a permanent relationship breaker)