Principled Dispute Resolution and Consulting

Jeanette BicknellI have seen first-hand the harm that can be caused by conflict in organizations. Valued employees leave. Stress levels go through the roof. Decisions don’t get made. Important tasks don’t get done. A feeling of helplessness prevails.

Mediation offers an affordable and collaborative process to resolve harmful conflict and preserve relationships. I help my clients create stronger organizations where employees can focus on their work in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect.

Not all conflict is bad.  In fact, constructive and respectful disagreements about things that matter can be a sign of a very healthy organization. Whether it’s a team or a board, I help members trust one another enough to make conflict natural and productive.

I taught the philosophy of art and ethics at the university level for about 10 years. In that profession, I practiced the skill of helping others to think clearly. That skill is perhaps my most valuable contribution to my work as a mediator.

By bringing clarity and a cool head to each intervention, I have:

  • 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 am on the Attorney General’s roster for the Ontario Mandatory Mediation Program.

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy, and I have earned the designation “Chartered Mediator” from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario.

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

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 here:  Thinking About Conflict and Value.

From the Blog:

Can this Partnership be Saved? (1)

(This is the first of an occasional series.)

Martin and Eli are co-owners of a growing software company with about twenty employees. They met in university when Eli was dating one of Martin’s room-mates. They’ve been in business together for nearly ten years and have very different management styles. Martin is very detail-oriented and sometimes impatient. He can be abrasive when he feels that someone hasn’t met his high standards. Eli is more easy-going and laid-back. He expects people to work hard, and he also wants everyone to get along and even have fun.

Martin has two young children and spends most of his free time with his family. Eli is still single; he spends his free time at the gym or socializing with other single people in the company. Sometimes, people on Martin’s team hint to Eli that Martin can be difficult to work with. Eli knows that Martin is a good guy underneath it all and that he pushes people because he wants the best for their clients and he wants the company to succeed. Still, Eli has noticed that Martin’s team has a much higher turn-over rate than his. When yet another highly skilled developer on Martin’s team gives her notice, Eli starts to feel frustrated. He wonders if Martin is really the best partner he could have. He knows he needs to discuss this with Martin, but he’s not sure how to do it. In fact, even the thought of having the conversation makes him stressed. Maybe he would do better managing the company on his own.

A business partnership can be a very intense relationship. You have to be able to depend on one another. You invest your time, skill, and perhaps some capital in a business. You succeed or fail, not just by your own actions and decisions, but by your partner’s as well. The consequences of a failed relationship are high: A ruined business, lawsuits, damage to reputations, not to mention stress that invades every aspect of your life.

Clearly, a business partnership is a relationship worth some effort. But how much effort and what kind of effort? A New York Times article about the company Genius reports that the founders have turned to “couples therapy” to help their partnership.

Can Martin and Eli’s partnership be saved?

Maybe: They respect each other and have similar values and an equal commitment to the company’s success. While they aren’t close friends, they get along well enough. Martin and Eli clearly need some kind of help but I doubt that therapy is the solution for them. Martin needs to understand that his management style is hurting the business. He needs coaching to help him find the way to get the best out of his team without alienating them. Eli, his partner and equal in the company, is the best person to give him this message.  If Eli is unable to initiate this “difficult conversation” he may also need coaching. And Eli will need to support Martin as he develops better management skills.

Do you know anyone like Martin or Eli? Tell me about it in the Comments section below.

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What the Rolling Stones can Teach us about Successful Creative Teams

Mick Jagger and Keith RichardsHow have Mick Jagger and Keith Richards been able to maintain a successful creative partnership over the years, when so many other rock relationships have bitten the dust? To find out, check out my post on LinkedIn: What the Rolling Stones can Teach us about Successful Creative Teams.

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What Managers can Learn from Mediators

Check out my contribution to the Globe and Mail’s “Leadership Lab” series: What Managers can Learn from Mediators. In it I share some of the things I have learned from my work in civil mediation (working with parties who would otherwise be in court) and as a workplace mediator.

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