11 posts categorized "Strong Emotion"

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

December 4, 2018

The Gift of Being Wrong

As a special gift at this year-end, let’s give ourselves the freedom to be wrong. Get unstuck from the pressure of being right. Go ahead and make mistakes.

Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.

- Peter T. McIntyre


Long before modern self-help writers, St Augustine is credited with the observation: “ Fallor ergo sum”, I err therefore I am.


For many of us, our schooling has taught us that being wrong is a bad thing and that success in life comes from never making mistakes. Very often learners in schools are penalized for mistakes, and not encouraged to embrace the learning that develops from those mistakes.


This always-being-right bias can leave us blind to our own errors, until it’s too late to fix the problem. Think of the cartoon coyote chasing the road-runner off the cliff, running out into the air, and not falling until he looks down and realizes he’s no longer on solid ground.


"Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong."
― Kathryn Schulz


Kathryn Schulz is the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. In her TED talk on being wrong she summarized the 3 assumptions we make when someone disagrees with us.


  1. The Ignorance Assumption: “… The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.”
  2. The Idiocy Assumption: “When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.”
  3. The Evil Assumption: “When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.”

Turns out that when someone disagrees with us, the wrong is that we think the other person is wrong. Our ego is so busy trying to protect us from being wrong, that we completely lose the idea of  objectively analysing which of us is right, or wrong, or whether each of us is somewhat right and somewhat wrong.


"The secret to being wrong isn't to avoid being wrong!   The secret is being willing to be wrong.  The secret is realizing that wrong isn't fatal."
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?


Then  we treat the other person as if our wrong assumptions are right, thus damaging and even ending relationships, not because they disagree with us, but because of this pattern in our own heads.  


"For a scientist, this is a good way to live and die, maybe the ideal way for any of us - excitedly finding we were wrong and excitedly waiting for tomorrow to come so we can start over."
Norman Maclean


For 2019, I invite you to join me in a challenge to take off the blinders and embrace being wrong. Usually the people who disagree with us are not ignorant, stupid, and evil. They are people like us who can be wrong even if we are right.

February 7, 2018

Just Listen!

The feeling that you are not being listened to is very frustrating. Relationships have been ended because of this feeling, in families, in workplaces and in business.

One reason this breakdown in communication occurs is that listening is not a skill generally developed and practiced. By comparison, reading, analyzing, and speaking are skills that are regularly part of educational programs.

Hearing is not the same as listening. Although it is a common saying, we seem to need frequent reminders. Just because I am speaking a language you understand and you can hear my words, I cannot be sure that you are listening to me. Vibration of the eardrums is not enough.

Many of us have not thought about how we listen. At the same time effective listening is the social glue that enables us to form meaningful relationships and connections.

Mortimer J. Adler wrote in How to Speak, How to Listen:

“We all realize that the ability to read requires training…the same would appear to be true of speaking and listening … training is required … Likewise, skill in listening is either a native gift or it must be acquired by training.”

Active listening is taught for use in many professional contexts and is applicable to any communication setting. An active listener listens with full attention, observe non-verbal components of what is said, clarify any unclear points, may paraphrase what is said, and ask the speaker to expand.

A mediator working with two or more people who are involved in a conflict, helps to resolve the conflict by facilitating active listening through words and body language, and in that way creates an opportunity for the disputing parties to understand one another.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ― M. Scott Peck

Listen Actively = Understand + Retain + Respond


First, we must understand what the other person is saying. In most cases, this occurs without a lot of effort. Some possible barriers which can limit comprehension, include:

  • Language
  • Use of jargon or slang
  • Differences in culture, age, education, or other factors not shared by both speaker and listener.

In Eyes Wide Open, Isaac Lidsky recommends simplifying understanding by asking “Can you explain that like I’m five years old?.”' Removing jargon and explaining things in simple language results in improved comprehension of complex topics.


As an active listener we must understand and retain what the person has said.

That retention of details cannot be limited to the part of what they said that is relevant to our reply. In order to listen actively we must focus on what the speaker said without thinking about what we will say next.

One of the challenges of listening is suppressing our ego long enough to fully consider what they said.  No matter how many times we may have heard from other clients or friends in similar situations, we do not know what this particular person is going to say until we listen to them.

Possible barriers to retention include:

  • Cognitive biases and selective listening (See Common Ground Blog, March 3, 2017)
  • Distractions, internal or external, such as fatigue, noise, or mobile devices.
  • Issues with memory, such as dementia.


Tell them what we understand. After listening to understand and retaining what we heard, then we need to communicate what we understand them to have said. This allows the speaker to assess your level of understanding.

“To be an active listener, we must try to go beyond the words and form a rich picture of the other person’s emotions and intentions,” in the words of Shane Parrish, Farnam Street Blog.

In responding we need to let the speaker know that we have paid attention to their words and also observed their non-verbal communication. When you disagree with the speaker, resist the temptation to try to add meanings to your response that align with your own perspective. This is not listening; this is debating.

 The same possible barriers apply to responding as to understanding and retaining.


“Anyone can talk,   

   but to listen is a gift,

     we should all exchange”

J. Benson, Haiku to Live By: Life affirming messages, to hearten your day


Build your active listening skills to resolve conflict.   Join us for Fundamentals of Mediation, a 40 hour, 5 day intensive mediation course. The next course dates are March 21, 22, 23, 26 and 27, 2018 in London, Ontario, Canada. Early registration discount ends February 12!



December 9, 2017

Gift- Giving Season Without Conflict: 5 Tips AND a New Year Challenge!

Surprisingly often we find ourselves in conflict with others about giving and receiving gifts. Gift giving seems like it should be simple and conflict-free.  We are making an effort to positively acknowledge another person with a gift.  However many of us have found it’s not that easy.

Woven in with the other social challenges of families and workplaces at this time of year there is the challenge of giving gifts. Recent discussion in the media about giving cash gifts with strings attached got me thinking about the complexity of gift-giving. 

Many retail businesses survive because of the spurt of purchases in the holiday gift-giving season. After all that’s the origin of the name Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S., to recognize the day that the bottom line in retail business shifts from red to black. Gift giving is big business. It is estimated that Christmas gifts account for 5% of all consumer spending and about 8% of a family’s annual budget may be spent on Christmas gifts. Let’s not forget the other celebrations at this time of year which may include giving gifts, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. That’s a lot of resources invested by gift-buyers.  Added to that is the effort and time invested in choosing and making gifts that cannot be valued with money.

Family members are the people to whom many of the gifts are given. According to Psychology Today, December 2016, “Four-fifths of all gifts given by adults over the year are Christmas gifts. Four fifths of all Christmas gifts are given to relatives, especially close relatives.  No wonder the choosing and buying of Christmas presents is such a big ordeal for so many and for such a long time.”(my emphasis)

Based on my experience as a mediator and dispute resolution professional, and as a giver and recipient of gifts, here are five tips to help navigate gift-giving season with less conflict.

1. Less is more

Don’t spend more to try to get them to like the gift (or you) more. At this time of year we are surrounded by advertising messages that encourage us to spend.  In contrast this is such an old concept that there is the popular wisdom of a proverb to illustrate it: "Small gifts make friends, great ones make enemies".  

 Modern research supports this. Studies found that there is “no relationship between the cost of a gift and the extent to which it is liked or preferred. The best predictor of how much a gift is appreciated is the amount of time, mental and physical effort put into choosing, making or preparing it.” 

 Think about some of the gifts you have received which you value most. A drawing from a child or a favourite food made by a grandmother are often the type of gifts that make us smile even many years later.

 2.  Enjoy the giving.

Giving a gift is an opportunity to express your bond with the recipient. Remember the gift includes your time and effort in choosing or making the gift.

There is no obligation to give a gift. If there’s an obligation it’s not a gift. The gift captures our effort to observe the recipient, and to choose a gift they want, or even better, a gift they didn’t know they wanted.

What you are really giving is your thought, the emotion you feel for that person. The action or the item is the representation of the thought.

Psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift, according to a 2007 article in the New York Times.

 3. Let go.

When you give, you have to let go. No strings attached. After the gift has been given, the giver has no more attachment to it. It’s not yours anymore!

Your gift might be as small as cookies you baked or as large as a new car. When they receive your gift, they can eat the cookies or throw them out. They can drive the car or sell it. And if your gift is cash, it’s up to them to decide what to do with it.

The only part that you get to keep is the happiness that giving brings you. See # 2. 

 4.  You know what gift you gave. You do not know what gift they got.

Dr SunWolf succinctly described the paradox of gifts. “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”

Consider your gift from the eyes of the recipient, as much as you can. How the recipient interprets your gift may be based on factors unknown to you and not within your control. Your brown paper wrapping to be planet-friendly may signal to them that you do not value the relationship very much because an ex in high school gave them an unpleasant gift wrapped in brown paper. Your gift of expensive jewellery to someone you met a couple months ago, may be seen as a level of commitment that is not shared.

  5.  Receive graciously.

 When you receive a gift, it is important to recognize the giver’s thought for you that is captured in the gift. If you make comments like “That’s too much”, “You shouldn’t have“, or “I didn’t want anything”, the underlying message the giver understands may be that you do not want their love. 

 If you receive a gift with a genuine, “Thank you”, and acknowledge the thought behind the gift, it allows the giver to feel the positive emotions that motivated them to give you the gift in the first place.

 In return for their gift, you give them back the gift of your thought and love for them.


Following these 5 tips is a good start to reducing holiday gift-giving conflict.


 New Year’s Challenge:  Do one small thing! 

What is one small thing you can do that will make a big difference for someone close to you?

You can start small. You can start today.   What change can you make that will create a big difference for someone close to you?   It might be stopping small annoyances with common sources of conflict like toothpaste tubes and toilet paper rolls.  It might be something more important like helping them out with chores.  It might be stopping smoking or getting more exercise or helping them to do that.  You might not even tell them that you have made this change, just let them experience the difference you made.  Think outside the box!  Likely this will be something that is not captured in a box or in the statistics about the economic impact of gift-giving season. 

Imagine what a positive impact you could have on the people close to you if you could do one small thing that will make a big difference for each one of them.

That’s the challenge I invite you to embrace for 2018!


Join us in London, Ontario, Canada for Fundamentals of Mediation on March 21, 22, 23, 26, & 27, 2018. Click here for more information.



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.

February 19, 2016

Why do I Need to Know the Fundamentals of Mediation?

I need to help my team members resolve conflict between them.  I learned mediation so that I could be more effective. -  Supervisor 

An excellent course. Must be taken by managers, problem solvers and those that have responsible jobs!  - Business owner

As manager of a team that provides services to the whole organization I end up mediating conflict between other departments and my staff.   I learned the mediation skills to do this better. - Manager

An excellent opportunity to build on existing skills and interests. Encourages alternative negotiation and mediation processes which are very useful.  - Lawyer

With my mediation training, I am positioned for promotion. This was a worthwhile investment in my career.  - Administrator

Looking forward to using my new mediation skills to build a retirement business mediating in my field. - Recently retired professional

Whatever your reason is

Fundamentals of Mediation is an opportunity to build your practical skills to manage and resolve conflict.

Next course dates April 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, 2016. Early registration discount until March 4, 2016.

Click here to register.

Don`t miss this opportunity.

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?”

February 26, 2015

Manage Marijuana Conflict without Pain

The  use of marijuana  may be coming to your workplace as a prescribed medication.  This issue challenges  employers and employees to balance the human rights of an employee prescribed a medication  with the health and safety issues linked to the use of that medication. What follows are some practical steps  to resolve that conflict.

This balance of  competing issues is a conversation that has occurred before.  Employees have been prescribed other medications which may affect their work performance or judgment.  The difference is that medications like Wellbutrin or Percocet do not have the stigma that is attached to marijuana.  

Except when prescribed, marijuana is illegal to possess or to sell in many jurisdictions, and in the past has been completely banned from most workplaces.   As a result employers and co-workers may be concerned about the use of marijuana at work even though other pain medications do not receive the same scrutiny.

As an employer or employee representative, opening up the conversation about medical marijuana is easier to do when there are no specific individuals with a current problem to solve.  Don’t wait until this is a human rights or health and safety complaint. 

Let’s get to specific practical steps to work through this issue.

  1. Gather information.  What other policies does the employer have which are relevant?  Workplace policies about other psychoactive drugs may be possible to extend to use of marijuana. What exactly are the health and safety risks associated with the use of marijuana  in the various specific  jobs in this workplace?  How do other similar employers manage similar risks?  How does this connect with the legal obligation, for example in Ontario,  of an employee to report hazards in the workplace?
  2. Listen to them.  If this is already a complaint, think about it objectively and try to separate the people involved from the path to the solution you are seeking.  In order to find a solution you will need to consider fully and thoroughly as many points of view as you can.  Separate past perceptions of marijuana use from the current reality of prescribed marijuana. 
  3. Solve the problem together.  If you find that the conversation is getting stuck here are some basic ideas to help move through difficulties.
  • Clarify what each affected person’s needs are – the employer, employee with marijuana prescription, co-workers, as well as customers, or members of the public who may be affected. 
  • Have those needs been addressed?
  • Propose different ideas which address everyone’s concerns. 
  • Propose a different process for negotiating, such as using an external mediator.

 How can you be sure you have solved the problem? 

This may not be a one-time solution  but an evolving process to build effective workplace policies as more information becomes available   about the uses and effects of marijuana.  Keep the door open to refine and reconsider  as understanding  develops in your workplace as well as  in general about the use of prescribed marijuana.

 For more information about health and safety policy issues on this topic  see http://www.hasco.ca/media/uploads/bulletins/Medical_Marijuana__Safety_Law.pdf 

June 19, 2014

Listen Your Way Through Impasse

Impasse is a normal part of conflict.  Typically it is not the result of negative personalities or bad behavior.  Sometimes people only recognize their conflict when they reach impasse. Could their NO become YES to a mutually satisfactory agreement? 

When we talk about negotiations at an impasse the words we use convey our attitudes:  Standstill.  Deadlock.  Stuck.  Stalemate.  We use metaphors such as :   what  can we do to “break through the deadlock” or  “overcome the problem” ?

How can we be more effective in changing their NO to a YES?

Usually when we talk about impasse we are trying to figure out whether we are really at “the point at which further bargaining would be futile” *.  This definition in the Dictionary of Conflict Resolution (Douglas H. Yarn, ed.) applies to  impasse in a labour relations context and at the same time it  fits the wider perspective also.  

It is true that sometimes impasse is used as a negotiating tactic.  Tactical impasse occurs when at least one negotiator has chosen to be at an impasse for a reason that is seen by them as effective to advance their goals.    For example a negotiator may feel that reaching impasse is useful for them to put pressure on the other side to make concessions or in some other way to enhance their negotiating power.  It is a high-risk tactic.

Tactical impasse is contrasted with genuine impasse which occurs when one negotiator feels unable to move forward without losing something important.  If the impasse is genuine, the negotiator has good reasons for being at an impasse from their point of view.

As a mediator I find that whether the impasse is tactical or genuine, the strategies to help the parties find a way forward are similar.  The parties are at impasse because it meets the needs for at least one party to be there.  If it is a tactical impasse the shift out of impasse may happen more quickly. 

Moving through impasse is not helped by increasing the pressure.  Especially if the stakes are high, people tend to feel anxious and afraid.   This emotional response decreases the possibility for creative thinking.  The use of power by a mediator or another negotiator to threaten or try to coerce them is more likely to increase their resistance than help them find a way forward. Thus the overpowering approaches implied in the common metaphors can in fact hinder our effectiveness.

Here are some steps to successfully find a way through impasse.

1.   “Go to the balcony”:  The first step is to take a break.  Cool down.  Breathe.   Give yourself and them some space.  In the words of William Ury, “go to the balcony”  (Getting Past No:  Negotiating Your Way from Confrontation to Cooperation).  Before you take any action think about what is happening in the negotiation.

2.  Focus on Interests:     Interests are needs, the requirements which must be considered in reaching a satisfactory agreement.  (For more information about interests see Common Ground # 22 and # 28.)

 The usual interests we think about are those concerned with the substance or result of the negotiation.  All negotiators will also have procedural interests, such as, “I need to be involved in setting the date because of the implications for my business”  and psychological interests, such as, ”I need to feel that my ideas are valuable”. 

Think about whether their (and your) concerns are about the details of the deal or about process or psychological needs. 

 List the substantive, procedural and psychological interests of each negotiator.   I find it is helpful to actually write this down, even if you are one of the negotiators.  Then list the common interests, the interests shared by all negotiators.  Those common interests can be the leading edge of your way forward.

How is the impasse itself meeting the interests of the negotiators?  At the same time as there are benefits, it is likely that there are risks or costs for the negotiators in the impasse.  What are the ways that the impasse is not meeting their interests?  For example impasse may meet shorter term interests but not longer term.  If a negotiator has made strong statements that they will not agree to something unless the other side meets certain conditions, they create a need to save face by sticking with this even though changing what they would accept might suit their needs better. 

 3.  Listen to Them:   Listen to what they say as ifthey are genuinely interested in joining you to find a way through the impasse.  Don’t argue or resist.  Try to appreciate their interests so that you develop a full understanding of their substantive, procedural and psychological interests.  Accept what they say and probe it to see how this could help solve the problem.  “Help me understand your reasons for saying ‘no’ ”.   

Consider whether other people need to participate in the negotiations. 

Does the timeframe need to be shorter or longer?  Sometimes negotiators can agree on a short term plan as a temporary measure rather than reaching a final long term agreement. 

Should the negotiators’ interests be considered in greater or lesser depth?  For example common interests may be clearer when the needs are considered at a deeper level. 

What is it that needs to be decided?  Is there another way to frame the issue that they are negotiating about so they can consider it more constructively?  Maybe they can be more effective in deciding one constructive next step than an overall solution. 

How can previously expressed rigid statements be reframed to allow negotiators to soften their stance without losing face?  This is often one of the most important factors to help them move forward. 

Here are some questions that you could ask to understand a “no”:

    • What are your reasons for saying “no”?
    • How could we approach this differently?
    • What parts do you agree with?  Disagree with?
    • What would it take for us to reach an agreement?
    • If you could put together a deal that you think we could all accept, what would it look like?
    • What can we do to make that happen?

 4.  Solve the Problem TogetherThe negotiators need to work together to find their way through the impasse.    The mediator cannot “break the deadlock” for them.  Indeed if the mediator takes responsibility for fixing the impasse that may contribute to the problem.

After the parties have built a thorough understanding of interests it is time to consider how there might be genuine possibilities for joint gains, not just an ‘I win-You lose” outcome. 

Here are some ideas to consider before you walk away:

    • Clarify what each person’s needs are.
    • Have those needs been addressed?
    • Propose different ideas which address everyone’s concerns. 
    • Propose a different process for negotiating, such as using an external mediator. 

Another key is to consider objective criteria for assessing a fair outcome.  For example previously decided court cases of a similar type may help the negotiators to agree on an upper and lower limit as a step towards reaching a specific settlement amount.  

As the creative options are developed, the negotiators need to look at their alternatives realistically. 

While there are situations when impasse makes sense as a stopping point for negotiations, make sure that your impasse is not caused by running out of negotiation skill or creativity before accepting their NO as a NO. 

Impasse is where the effective negotiator does not give up, but digs deeper.  In the famous words of Yogi Berra, "It ain't over 'til it's over."