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Workplace investigations are not for the faint of heart. The sensitive subject matter and high stakes often cause tensions to run high, not just for the parties, but also potentially for investigators. In this blog, I share some personal challenges that investigators may face and discuss how to build the capacity to better manage the ups and downs of investigations.
Given the nature of investigations, inevitably, at least one party will be unhappy with the results and feel that they’ve “lost.” This sense of loss can prompt push back. As an investigator, your process and findings may be questioned by the employer, by the parties, and by union and legal representatives. Sometimes the questions will feel more personal. You may be questioned on your neutrality, your tone, your lived experiences and how you identify. When faced with these personal questions, there may be times you reflect and start to question yourself.
In addition to being subject to criticism, the subject matter of investigations can also be triggering and traumatic for investigators. You may find some investigations stay with you, well after they have been concluded. Investigators also carry the weight of knowing their findings can have significant consequences for those involved.
After one particularly stressful day, I sought out words from the wise — Janice Rubin. She said it was important to not let things get under my skin, and she recommended that I build equanimity to better enjoy the highs and manage the lows of investigative work.
I’ll be honest, initially I didn’t know this word – “equanimity.” Maybe this was part of the problem.
So, I googled it:
Equanimity: mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.1
In Buddhist practice, ‘equanimity’ basically means not giving your power away, in chaos, hostility, or challenging moments. It means instead of reacting to triggers, you remain psychologically stable and respond with balance, wisdom, self-control, compassion, and inner-peace. Equanimity is not allowing what others are doing to get into you.2
Well, I thought, must be nice, but how does one develop equanimity?
Like anything else, developing equanimity requires thought, effort, and discipline. I’m clearly no expert, but I’ve spent some time turning my mind to equanimity. Here are a few of my considerations:
- Get comfortable with uncertainty
In an investigation, things rarely go as planned. Inevitably, something will come up that throws you off course – it’s the nature of the work. To avoid uncertainty, I generally over plan and overprepare, so things can go as seamlessly as possible (in theory).
I realized my approach wasn’t helpful after I watched Stutz,3 a documentary by Jonah Hill about his psychiatrist, Philip Stutz. In this documentary, Stutz said that uncertainty is an inevitable “aspect of reality,” and without it, there would be no growth.
While we can’t escape uncertainty, we can develop the confidence to trust that we can manage any uncertainty that may arise, whether it relates to your investigative work or any uncomfortable criticism and difficult conversations you may have.
2. Focus on what you can control
While some uncertainty is inevitable, there are aspects of our work over which we do have control. We have control over whether we are well-prepared for interviews and keep our files organized. We can also educate ourselves so that we are informed on best investigative processes and practices. Once you satisfy yourself that you have done your best, then hopefully you’ll be more confident facing questions and challenges that may arise.
3. Don’t take things personally!
Sometimes I feel like a dentist – the work is necessary, but those who meet with me in the context of an investigation likely find it to be unpleasant. Keep in mind that in an investigation, you are meeting parties at what is likely not their best moment. Clients can also be stressed by serious allegations and are trying to manage the situation internally. Sometimes, the result is that the frustration is directed at you as the investigator. When that happens, rather than reacting and taking comments personally, slow down and empathize with them. Seek to understand their perspective and concerns so that you can tailor your response and conduct to be more thoughtful and effective.
4. Remind yourself of why you conduct investigations
Part of the reason that many of us do workplace investigations is that we care about critical issues in workplaces. We may have been drawn to this line of work because of our own lived experiences, and/or because we may want to be part of the movement to identify and work against important issues like sexual harassment and racial discrimination. At the end of the day, we are all still learning (regardless of our years of experience), so extend yourself some self-compassion as you navigate this work. While we can’t cultivate equanimity overnight, we can work towards gaining that clarity and calmness, regardless of our circumstances.
1 Oxford dictionary definition.
2 India X, “5 Blog Posts for Journeying in Equanimity” (July 26, 2020), online: Vibrate Higher Daily < https://www.vibratehigherdaily.com/blog-articles/5-blog-posts-for-journeying-in-equanimity >
3 Stutz Documentary, 2022, Netflix.
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