7 posts categorized "bullying"

July 22, 2019

Learn to Embrace Workplace Conflict

Conflict in a workplace is unavoidable. The ability to deal effectively with conflict is an important skill for everyone in a workplace and is essential for leadership.

Trying to avoid conflict is the least helpful method for dealing with workplace conflict. Rarely does conflict disappear when ignored.  It is much more likely to escalate, to blow up a small problem into a much larger event.

“The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall,” according to Mike Myatt in an article for Forbes.com.

The failure to be able to resolve workplace conflict can lead to a loss of productivity, and block creativity and collaboration.   Another frequent consequence is the departure of talented employees who choose not to stay in an uncomfortable environment where they may experience bullying or a poisoned atmosphere. 

Recently I was working with two leaders of a well-established small business. The leaders were struggling with long-standing conflict between them.  As in many conflict situations, communication problems played a big part in the conflict.  Lack of information, unclear communication, different interpretations of information were all mixed up in the turmoil. 

Without sufficient information both leaders were making assumptions. Then all of that was escalated by an increasingly heated emotional climate as each focused on blaming the other rather than resolving the conflict. 

Both leaders had good intentions and wanted the company to succeed. The stakes were high. Their unresolved conflict was causing negative ripples amongst employees and customers, and significantly interfering with the company’s stability.   

The situation can be even more difficult if the participants in the conflict are trying to manipulate or mislead the others.

As a leader do not let yourself be caught in destructive crossfire of conflict in your workplace.

Develop the skills to be use conflict as an opportunity for growth and leverage differing opinions to stimulate the innovation and development of your team.

Build your conflict resolution skills this fall.

Join the course Fundamentals of Mediation at Munn Conflict Resolution Services in beautiful London, Ontario.

Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Course # 1 – Fundamentals of MediationSeptember 25, 26, 27, 30, and October 1, 2019 – 5 days – 40 hours.

    • Recognized by the ADR Institute of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario.
    • Early Registration Discount ends Wednesday, August 21!

Click here for full details about our Mediator Education Program.


Read the full article by Mike Myatt here

June 25, 2017

Happiness in 5 Simple Steps

Would you like to be happier? The start of the summer season is a great time to bring more happiness into our lives. 

Recently I was working with people struggling in a long and complex conflict situation.  Afterwards I thought about how important it is to manage our emotional distress by shifting our focus to what we can do for ourselves to increase our happiness.

I found this distillation of ancient wisdom about happiness from the Stoics  in a recent post by Eric Barker in the blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Simple steps but not easy.   Here’s a summary:

1. Events Don’t Upset You. Beliefs Do: Only the end of the world is the end of the world.

If you lose your job you might feel excited or devastated depending on your beliefs. If you believe that the job was bad for you and you will have no problem getting another job, you will feel excited by the opportunity.  If you believe that it was your perfect job and you will never be able to get another job like it, you will be devastated.  The objective event is the same, the emotion is different.

The emotion we experience is based on our belief. In Shakespeare’s words, “Nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.”

Most of the bad feelings we have are caused by irrational beliefs. The helpful approach is to focus on those negative emotions about an event, rather than focusing on the event that we think was the cause of our negative emotions. 

Ask yourself what you believe about that event. And then ask yourself if it’s rational:

  • “If my partner dumps me, I’ll never get over it.”
  • “If I lose my job, my life is over.”

These are irrational beliefs, and if those are your beliefs you will likely be anxious, angry or depressed.

If you revise your beliefs and you can change your feelings: “Even if I get fired I can get another job.   I’ve been unemployed before and I got through it.”

 2. Control What You Can. Ignore The Rest: Worrying never fixed anything.

Remember the old serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

Much of what we experience as stress and worry are events over which we have no control. If we worry about getting laid off in a market downturn, our worry will not change the market downturn or the employer’s decision.  Worry is another irrational response that we need to train ourselves to leave behind for the sake of our happiness.

However if there is any part of the event that you do control, it’s better to stop worrying and take action. Improving the quality of your work so as to be as lay-off-proof as possible and looking for other job opportunities are both elements within your control.  Not only does this cut down your stress, it also means that you are spending your energy on action that will make a difference for you.

 The image with this article explains this point visually.


3.    Accept Everything. But Don’t Be Passive: Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something.

If we choose not to get upset about irrational emotional responses or worrying, what should we do? Accept things as they are and then decide what to do about them.

Acceptance is not resignation; acceptance is the opposite of denial. We may wish things were otherwise but it is irrational to deny the reality facing us. We can think, “I should not be laid off,”  but that will not change reality if we are given the pink slip.  “Should” is a very popular way of denying reality.  Denial is another irrational belief and is going to lead us to those negative emotions as in step 1. 

Instead if we accept reality we can decide what we can control, and then take action on those controllable factors, as in step 2. Maybe this lay-off is going to lead to a new opportunity which you could not imagine in the old job.

 4. Choose Whose Child You Will Be: “What would Batman do in this situation?”

Now shifting away from the reactive to the positive, take a look around and realize that you are not alone on this island. There are mentors, teachers, role models and lots of other people to learn from.

Seneca said “ We like to say that we don’t get to choose our parents, that they were given by chance – yet, we can truly choose whose children we wish to be.”

Identify a person you really admire, a person who is doing something that you would eventually like to do, including living life well. Interview them about how they were able to accomplish what they did and the steps that you could take to get to that level.

Next time you face a challenge, think of that person you admire. Research shows that asking yourself “What would _____ do?” can have powerful positive effects on your behavior.

5. Morning and Evening Rituals Are Essential: Plan for the day, then reflect on the day.

Rituals can help you recognize whether you are  improving.

Every morning think about all the negative things that will be brought to you by the people you face, try to understand why they will behave that way, and then “forgive and love them for it”.

At the end of the day reflect on what has happened and what you can improve.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” is another quote from Seneca. We all have the potential to become better.


One final tip:

The final tip is from Marcus Aurelius, “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.”

A few thousand years later, the research shows that gratitude still makes a difference to happiness. Subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier.

“What if I never met my partner? What if my child was never born? I am so lucky to have them in my life.”


Take action in 5 steps and spend this summer being happier - and grateful that you read this blog post.

 Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts September 27, 2017.

Read Eric Barker’s full post here: http://www.bakadesuyo.com/2016/09/ancient-wisdom/

March 3, 2017

Thinking about Thinking: Conflict and Cognitive Bias

Next time you are experiencing a difficult conflict try thinking about how you and the other person are thinking.  When I read a recent post by Buster Benson I was struck by how cognitive bias contributes enormously to my day-to-day world of resolving conflict. Understanding more about cognitive bias certainly improves our conflict resolution skills.

Recently a learner in one of my courses expressed surprise when I said most people I deal with in mediation do not lie. However often they have very different perceptions about the same situation. Frequently those perceptions develop as a result of cognitive bias.

Let’s consider an example of employees in a workplace. One feels that having their reports corrected by a colleague is harassment. The other feels that this behaviour is being helpful. Or consider the joke that one member of the team does not find funny, and feels is intended to mock her.

According to the definition in Wikipedia, a cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation from rationality, in which inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. For example, when we choose to rely on details which support our beliefs and ignore those details which do not, we are demonstrating cognitive biases such as confirmation bias, ostrich effect or post-purchase rationalization.

It takes a lot of energy to think, and then to think about how we think. Being efficient humans, for good reason we rely on the shortcuts of cognitive bias. In his post Buster Benson said:

Every cognitive bias is there for a reason — primarily to save our brains time or energy. If you look at them by the problem they’re trying to solve, it becomes a lot easier to understand why they exist, how they’re useful, and the trade-offs (and resulting mental errors) that they introduce.

Here are four problems that cognitive biases help us address and some examples of the ways they contribute to make conflict situations more difficult.

1.  Too much information.   There is so much information in the world that we need some way to filter out the majority of it. Conflict situations often include the example above of relying on details which support our beliefs and ignoring details which do not, leading to several common cognitive biases, three of which are mentioned above.

2.  Not enough meaning.   How do we make sense of all the vast information out there? In conflict situations it is common to use our cognitive biases to fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, (for example, stereotyping and bandwagon effect) and to imagine things and people we’re familiar with as better than things and people we aren’t familiar with (for example, halo effect, and in-group bias). Another common participant in conflict situations is our tendency to think we know what others are thinking. Examples of this are illusion of transparency, asymmetric insight, and spotlight effect.

3.  Need to act fast.    We have too much information, not enough time to figure it out and we need to act fast without enough time to be certain. Ever since our cave-dwelling days, standing still invites danger. A factor in many conflict situations is our need to be confident in our ability to make an impact and to choose to do what is important, (for example overconfidence effect, and fundamental attribution error). Another popular area of cognitive bias which contributes to conflict is the tendency to choose what we know and preserve the way things are. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not. Examples of this are decoy effect and status quo bias.

4.  Not enough memory.  There’s too much information for us to remember much of it. What we choose to remember helps us create the filters we need for # 1 above and to fill in missing information for #2 above. It’s a self-reinforcing circle. Our tendency to edit memories after the fact is a contributor to conflict, for example, source confusion, and false memory. Another frequent contributor to conflict is our tendency to reduce facts and events to a few key elements, for example, misinformation effect and primacy effect.


Back to our examples of employees from the beginning. Of course the cognitive biases in action depend on the specific circumstances. The employees in a dispute about whether correcting a colleague’s report is harassment might benefit from considering how the cognitive biases of asymmetric insight and the illusion of transparency are affecting their perceptions of the situation. The team with the joke that is not shared by all might be experiencing perceptions framed by the cognitive biases of bandwagon effect and in-group bias. That group plus the one who does not find the joke funny may also be experiencing the cognitive bias of the illusion of transparency.

We need to use more logic when we think about our thinking. Simple to say and definitely not simple to do. Understanding more about how we form our perceptions, the illogical shortcuts we use and the errors those cognitive biases cause us can go a long way to helping us unravel the tangled mess of a conflict.

 Read Buster Benson’s article here.

  Build your conflict resolution skills by registering for Fundamentals of Mediation.  The next course starts March 29, 2017.

October 2, 2016

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

Eliminate Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination- October 18 in London, Ontario

Munn Conflict Resolution Services supports healthy, peaceful workplaces

Please join us for an event in London, Ontario sponsored by Munn Conflict Resolution Services.

The topic is:  Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment & Violence

Elizabeth Hewitt, LLB of E. Hewitt Law will be the keynote speaker hosted by  London Business and Professional Women.

Date:   October 18, 2016. 

 Ms Hewitt will discuss the best practices and common pitfalls of workplace harassment, bullying and discrimination and how these issues cost both employer and employees.

Resister now. The deadline is October 11.

Click here for details and registration.

June 26, 2015

Avoid Temptation in Workplace Conflict

Have you heard comments like this in your workplace?

My team member doesn’t respond when I email or phone her.  I don’t feel I can count on her.

It feels like elementary school - the “in” group people just socialize with each other.

I heard them talking about me before I went in to the lunch room but no one ever told me that stuff directly.

He doesn’t talk to me but talks to the person with me.

I don’t know what I’ve done but I know they’ve put me in the doghouse.  Half the team won’t talk to me.

If you have heard – or said – these comments, your workplace is likely experiencing unresolved conflict.  Like the sore throat that lets you know you’re going to get a cold, these comments are symptoms of worse to come if they are not addressed.  And like that sore throat, it may be possible to stop the symptoms from developing into a full blown case of harassment, bullying, or toxic work environment. 

As an employee in a workplace it is tempting to think of these symptoms as someone else’s problem.  While there may be a role for management, or HR, or the union, there is also a role for each of us in improving our work environment. 

It seems simple to say that we cannot control others’ behaviour.  All we can control is our own behaviour.  Even though the concept is simple, it is very hard to avoid slipping into the thinking patterns in the comments above:  their bad behaviour made you respond in kind; you are the innocent victim; you can’t or don’t want to speak up when your dignity is violated.

These examples came to mind recently when I read “Dignity:  Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict” by Donna Hicks.   This book describes the essential role that dignity plays in resolving conflict.

In “Dignity”  Donna Hicks sets out Ten Temptations to Violate Dignity.   Her list applies whether we are thinking of conflict in a work environment or elsewhere in life.  Three temptations on her list are illustrated in those comments.

Taking the Bait” is the way Donna Hicks describes the temptation to let their bad behaviour determine our own.  The first step of avoiding this temptation is to be aware that we all have a choice.  We can choose not to take the bait, to restrain ourselves from harming others because we feel they have harmed us.  The impulse for self-protection is often unconscious and so very strong that we can find ourselves striking back before the other part of the brain analyses the situation and realizes that violating their dignity leads us into danger,  that harming them takes us into a cycle of violence which harms us in the long run. Donna Hicks wrote, “The better part of dignity is restraint.”  Yes, a person is behaving badly when they ostracize a team member, or do not respond to emails or phone requests.   Responding in kind, or escalating the bad behaviour leads us into a downward spiral and makes us part of the problem.

Being the Victim” is also on the list of Donna Hicks’ ten temptations.  If you are experiencing a troubled relationship with a co-worker, it is important to consider how you might be contributing to the problem.   Often our immediate self-preserving default mode is to see ourselves as the innocent victim.  What is more helpful is to consider how they see us.  Especially in long-standing conflict this level of self-awareness can be difficult and may be helped by a neutral outsider such as skilled human resources staff or an outside mediator.

Another of the temptations is “Avoiding Conflict.  Many of us would let the concerns expressed in the comments just slide by.  We avoid confrontation.  We say these comments to our friends but we don’t respond to the person who is violating our dignity by excluding us or gossiping about us.   

There may be times when it is wise not to respond to the person you feel has harmed you, for example  if you might lose your job.  Even if your boss is the offender, the situation is not necessarily all or nothing.  Consider your options and if you need help to do this, consult a neutral outsider.  You can choose to speak up; you can develop your alternatives (BATNA*)  in the event that the conversation does not go the way you hope and then speak up; or you can say nothing and take steps to protect your own dignity and not allow the offender to harm you.

We may not be able to avoid feeling bad when excluded or treated unfairly.  However after that we can decide how to make sense of the situation.  Even if we choose not to speak up, we can choose to recognize our own self-worth and not allow our dignity to be violated by their bad behaviour.

Don’t give into temptation.  Choose to respond to workplace conflict so that you are part of the resolution, not the problem.

*For more information about BATNA see “What is a BATNA and why do I need one?”

October 29, 2013

A Perspective on Truth and Conflict

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a
perspective, not the truth.”                                                                                                

Marcus Aurelius 

My perspective is my point of view, a subjective evaluation.  That simple fact is true for everyone.   If I were drawing with perspective I would show the appearance of things relative to each other as they appear to my eye.  The distant mountain would be smaller in the drawing than my fingers on the pencil immediately in front of me.

When we find ourselves in a conflict, it is even more important to remember that we see the world from our own eyes.

A while ago two people were referred to meby their boss for a mediation because of a workplace conflict between them.   Their conflict was having such a disruptiveeffect on others in their organization that the boss said this mediation was their last opportunity to find a way to work together because the boss felt his only alternative was to fire one or both of these employees.

The room was very tense when the mediation meeting began.  In earlier phone conversations, both had told me about how they had gotten along well until several months earlier.  Both knew things had changed, but made their own assumptions about why the change had occurred.   They did not trust each other  now.  The employee felt bullied; the manager thought the employee was trying to manipulate senior management  to get the manager fired.

Fast forward to a point about one hour into the mediation:  the manager talked about the company problems she was dealing with and how she valued the input of the employee.  The employee talked about how he had understood her actions completely differently.  The conversation continued but the climate in the room was shifting quickly.  They were listening to each other.  Their perspectives were being revealed to each other.  The mention of  lies and manipulation had disappeared.  By the end of the three hours scheduled for the mediation meeting they had reached an agreement which resolved  the conflict  between them. 

They left the mediation room joking with each other about jointly participating in an upcoming company event.  I left thinking about the power of perspective.

What was plain and obvious to each of them, the fingers right in front of their eyes,   was invisible, or at best  barely visible, to the other.  Nothing had changed, except that everything changed when the difference in their perspectives was revealed.  When someone describes a different “truth” it
does not mean they are lying; it is their revelation of what is true for them.  The challenge for those of us  trying to resolve conflict is to set aside our own picture while we  take the time to listen and understand the other person’s “truth”.