Jeanette Bicknell Ph.D., Q. Med.

Principled Dispute Resolution and Consulting

Jeanette BicknellI have seen first-hand the harm that can be caused by conflict in organizations: Valued people leave. Stress. Decisions aren’t made and things don’t get done. A feeling of helplessness.

Mediation offers a cost-effective, efficient, and collaborative way to resolve harmful conflict and preserve relationships. I help clients create organizations where people can focus on their work without the distraction of personal conflicts.

But not all conflict is bad.  I am passionate about working with teams and boards so that members can trust one another enough to have constructive and respectful disagreements about things that matter.

Like many mediators, I came into the field after doing something else. I taught philosophy at the university level for about 10 years. My academic specialties were the philosophy of art and ethics. But no matter what the specific material I was teaching, I always considered that my primary task was helping others to think clearly. I’m still doing this, but now as a mediator.

Some of my recent work:

  • Helped prevent the break-up of a profitable business partnership through conflict coaching and ongoing support.
  • Restored a respectful workplace at a small industrial firm by helping them develop and implement a “Code of Conduct.”
  • Investigated sexual harassment and bullying allegations for a major Canadian university.
  • Coached a client to prepare her for a difficult negotiation about the family property.
  • Helped a creative-sector firm to resolve conflicts that had arisen in the course of a management transition.
  • Restored damaged working relationships by helping to resolve long-standing conflicts between two  company divisions.

I also provide civil mediation services for lawyers and their clients as an associate with the Sadowski Resolutions Group LLP.  I am on the Attorney General’s roster for the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program.

I work with single individuals and with large and small organizations.  One thing never changes: client names and identifying details are strictly confidential.

I’m still active in academic philosophy. You can find out more about my work at www.jeanettebicknell.org When I’m not working or spending time with my family, you are likely to find me at a yoga studio.  (But don’t worry, if you work with me I won’t ask you to sit in a circle and chant, etc.)

Thinking About Conflict and Value is my blog. Conflict is what mediators spend most of their time thinking about, working through, and trying to resolve. Value refers both to moral values and to aesthetic or artistic values. I write on a wide variety of topics, including best practices in mediation, ethical and legal issues in the arts, workplace conflict, business ethics, and the ethics of everyday life. You may also find the occasional book review. I invite you to join in the discussion on these blog posts.

From the Blog:

Causes of Workplace Conflict: Why personality isn’t as important as you might think

I don’t know how many times I’ve clicked on an article about workplace conflict only to be told that “personality” or “personality differences” are a major cause.

The belief that one “bad apple” is responsible for conflict or that personality differences are a major source of trouble is, in its own way, comforting. If all that is needed to stop conflict is to remove one individual or ensure that certain people never have to work together, then workplace conflict doesn’t seem like such a hard problem.

I have to admit that sometimes, it is actually the case that removing one person can make a huge difference. But this happens less frequently than you might imagine. Think about it: You probably come across people every day with whom you have “personality differences” – neighbours, family members, friends-of-friends, colleagues. I doubt that you have conflicts with all of them. Most of us easily navigate personality differences and get along with various kinds of people, even if we realize that we will never be close friends.

So if “personality” isn’t the cause (or the main cause) of workplace conflict, why do such conflicts arise? When I analyze a workplace conflict, I look at the following factors. They may not all apply in every situation, but usually more than one will be relevant.

Values: These are strongly held convictions about the things that matter most. They could be about politics, religion, morality, or even about the best way to raise children. While these kinds of personal convictions may not come up at work, differing values about the mission and direction of the organization are often a source of conflict.

Interests: This means anything that an individual wants, needs, hopes or fears. It could be money (in the form of a salary increase, a bonus, or a bigger departmental budget). It could be career advancement. It could be the fear of losing one’s job. It could be a desire for prestige or a fear of letting the organization down.

Relationships:  By this I mean a history of negative or positive interactions between individuals. If two people have had conflicts in the past, and these weren’t handled effectively, there can be lingering effects.

Externals: These are factors outside the organization that might influence conflict within it. They might be factors that effect everyone, such as a weak economy. Or they might be factors that influence only specific individuals, such as health concerns or family issues.

Data: Incorrect or incomplete information has been an aspect of nearly every conflict I have mediated. When people are working with different or inconsistent data sets, conflicts can easily arise. And to add to the confusion, people in conflict often have no idea that the other side may have different information.

Structure: Organizational factors are tricky to discuss and can be difficult for people to see. Sometimes the very way in which work and workplace relationships are organized can cause conflict. Structural factors are one of the main reason to bring in outside help in resolving a conflict. An outsider can see the makings of a conflict in what looks (to an insider) like “the way we’ve always done things.”

Leave a comment below and tell me what you think causes workplace conflict.

Posted in Workplace/Employment | Leave a comment

Condo Law Digest – March 2015

Bascula 8.jpgDyke v. Metropolitan Toronto Condo. Corp. No. 972, 2015 ONSC 732
Decision Date: January 30, 2015
http://canlii.ca/t/gg4x3

This motion refers back to Justice Morgan’s 2013 finding on behalf of the applicant in her noise complaint against the condo corporation. (To make a long story short, the source of the noise was a professional dance studio situated in the unit above the applicant’s. The dance studio moved in November 2013.) This action turns on whether the corporation “disregarded, intentionally violated, or otherwise flouted” the order. While the corporation may have been “a tad slow or bureaucratic” their conduct does not rise to the standard of contempt. The judge awarded costs of $20 000 to the corporation; they had sought $97 000 on a substantial indemnity basis or $66 000 on a partial indemnity basis. The applicant has also made a claim for damages against the corporation, which will be heard together with a separate action she has brought, naming additional parties.

Comment: The applicant continues to be bothered by noise originating from the unit upstairs. (Ordinary residential noise, rather than noise associated with a dance studio.) The judge reaffirmed the position that condominium dwellers are entitled to “quiet enjoyment” but not silence.

Toronto Standard Condominium Co. No. 1487 v. Market Lofts Inc., 2015 ONSC 1067
Decision Date: Feb 18, 2015
http://canlii.ca/t/ggdh8

This is a request for summary judgment to enforce a Shared Services Agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant. Under the 2001 agreement both premises were to share costs related to shared facilities and services (including the roof, the foundation, the hot water tank, and some of the alarm monitoring system). The agreement seems to have been ignored by the plaintiff’s property manager at the time; the failure to enforce it was also an oversight or failure by TSCC’s board. In late 2010/2011, a new property management team noticed the Agreement and prepared a claim for payment by the defendant in the amount of over $162, 000. The defendant refused to pay, claiming that there was a “common understanding” that each party would take care of its own expenses. Justice Perell found no evidence of such an understanding, and granted the summary judgment motion.

Valentina Vasilescu Tarko et al. v. Metropolitan Toronto Condominium Corporation 626 et al., 2015 ONSC 982
Decision Date: Feb, 13, 2015
http://canlii.ca/t/gg9kj

This is an appeal of a small claims court decision. MTCC 626 is the condominium corporation for Renaissance Plaza, a mixed use building with residential and commercial units, retail space, office space and an indoor parking garage. Some of the condominium owners had parking arrangements which were automatically renewed each year, and others had monthly parking which could be terminated by either side. The owner of the monthly parking spaces terminated the agreement; MTCC commenced litigation and was unsuccessful. To pay the “significant” legal costs, the Board created a Special Assessment on individual condominium owners of $7 per square foot. The appellants disagreed with the Special Assessment and circulated an open letter arguing against it; the unit owners ratified the Special Assessment at the Annual General Meeting on May 30, 2011. On June 28, 2013 the appellants commenced a small claims court action. The Deputy Judge stayed the claim, as it was issued 25 months after the AGM. (The Limitations Act specifies that ordinarily a claim may not be commenced more than 2 years after a claim is discovered.) The basis of this appeal is that the claim did not take effect until July 1, 2011, when the first installment of the Special Assessment was due. The judge rejected the appeal and awarded costs of $5000 to the respondents.

Information about the image:

Bascula 8” by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lmbuga) – self made, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Bascula_8.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in Condo Disputes | Leave a comment

Encouraging Critical Conversations

Barn raising - Leckie's barn completed in frame.jpg

It is no secret that organizations that encourage frank discussion around new business ideas and analysis of their mistakes and shortcomings benefit hugely, in terms of innovation, improvement, and higher creativity.  When team members feel that they can contribute in a healthy debate, the entire organization is better off. Yet how do you encourage critical discussion without de-motivating or even alienating people when conflict emerges?

Based on my work on conflict resolution and my background in philosophy, I have become interested in the problem of how to develop team cultures that allow for open critical discussion around key business problems while maintaining high morale and engagement.

For a limited time, I am offering a free introductory session on this topic.  I’ve found that even one session of this material can improve group dynamics because it raises awareness and gives people a space to discuss the kind of interactions they want to have. I’ve surveyed some of the best research on this topic, and I can tell you that there are steps to take (as well as steps to avoid) that can give you workplace dynamics that will encourage critical discussion and significantly improve engagement, morale, and team dynamics. The first session does not get into all of the techniques, but it offers value and is a good starting point.

If you’re interested, get in touch through the contact form.

Information about the image:

Barn raising – Leckie’s barn completed in frame” by John Boyd –
This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number RD-000066 and under the MIKAN ID number 3193516
This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.
Library and Archives Canada does not allow free use of its copyrighted works. See Category:Images from Library and Archives Canada.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in Workplace/Employment | 1 Comment