A vote for conflict awareness, not conflict avoidance

HALIFAX — Can a person be too qualified to serve on the Brattleboro Food Co-op board? The BFC board thinks so.

I really, really appreciate the board's service. Its members work tirelessly, and part of their job is to evaluate the job performance of the general manager.

The board says that a senior staff person who reports to the GM would have “too great” a conflict of interest to serve in this capacity. A proposed bylaw change would exclude those people from serving on the board.

Why, exactly?

The situation the board wants to avoid is the most normal thing in the world. Everyone has a point of view. Like it or not, everyone has personality clash with someone else. (Yes, that includes you.)

Sensing these undercurrents and adjusting for them are the most timeless of human skills. In any committee, board, or hockey team, the person with the most predictable, immovable point of view on any topic loses credibility and has no influence on that topic. There is zero danger to the board as a whole making a bad decision because of one person's hypothetical personality conflict.

Best-case scenario: The bylaw change excludes some of the smartest staff who have the most to offer at the board level. Worst-case scenario: A staff person gets elected who clashes with the GM. Everyone quickly sees this and discounts that person's opinion anytime that topic is discussed.

In my professional life, I facilitate three separate committees that meet biweekly. That means that six times a month I'm asking a group of a dozen people to declare their conflicts - not avoid them.

We accept that conflicts are inevitable and simply mean that everyone has skin in the game. If an agenda item comes up where you have a specific conflict, you're asked to declare it. That way the rest of the group can be aware of it and factor it into how your point of view is perceived.

I plan to vote against this bylaw change. I support conflict awareness, not conflict avoidance.

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