I help people resolve conflict, and I help groups work together effectively and respectfully.
My practice areas include art, education, employment, condominium and workplace disputes.
Like many mediators, I have come 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.
I work with business owners and managers to help teams and boards work together effectively and respectfully. I understand the harm that is caused by dysfunctional conflict, but not all conflict is bad. I strive to help clients create workplaces where employees can focus on their work without the distraction of personal conflicts, and I am passionate about working with teams and boards so that members can trust one another enough to have constructive disagreements.
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:
Toronto Standard Condominium Corporation No. 2130 v. York Bremner Developments Limited, 2014 ONCA 809
Decision Date: November 17, 2014
This is a ruling on an appeal brought forward from the judgment of Justice Matheson. In that decision, Justice Matheson had ruled in favour of the TSCC that an arbitrator be appointed to decide a number of disputes between the parties. Since at least one of the issues was clearly within the arbitrator’s jurisdiction, an arbitrator should be appointed and determine his jurisdiction over the remaining issues. York Bremner Developments have appealed, arguing that Justice Matheson should not have referred all of the disputes to arbitration. Rather, she should have assessed each issue and referred only those that were at least partially arbitrable. The Appeal Court judges disagreed with York Bremner and rejected the appeal. They reasoned that the TSCC’s grounds for appointing an arbitral tribunal included Section 10(1) of the Arbitration Act, according to which there is no appeal from the court’s appointment of the arbitral tribunal.
Comment: The TSCC was awarded costs of $20,000. York Bremner Developments have exercised their right to appeal the arbitrator’s ruling on jurisdiction to the Superior Court.
Toronto Standard Condominium Corporation No. 2095 v. West Harbour City (I) Residences Corp., 2014 ONCA 724
Decision Date: October 22, 2014
This is an appeal from the judgment of Justice Corbett dated September 23, 2013. West Harbour City is a developer, and TSCC 2095 is one of its developments. The condo’s board entered into an agreement with the developer which restricted the rights of owners to sue the builder for deficiencies that were beyond the amounts of the Tarion warranty. Now, the original board was controlled by the developer’s nominees. When control of the board was turned over to unit owners, they sued to set aside this agreement, arguing that no reasonable board of directors would have agreed to it. Justice Corbett declined to rescind the agreement, saying that a developer was entitled to limit its risk, and that the agreement had been disclosed to perspective buyers and also registered on title. In this judgment, the appeal court unanimously dismissed the appeal. They also stated that whether developers should be allowed to limit their liability in this way is a matter of policy for the legislature to decide, rather than for judicial determination.
Comment: One more reason to get legal advice when buying a condo. Provisions limiting developers’ liability can have financial impact, should a building turn out to have deficiencies.
I was on the phone with Jane, the managing director of a creative firm. She was clearly frustrated. Relations between the account services team and the head of production (“Bob”) were at an all-time low. People felt anxious about talking to him and would avoid him if possible. A few had even threatened to quit. The “drama” was a distraction from business. Jane wanted people to be able to work together collaboratively as a team. She was tired of responding to complaints about Bob and wasn’t sure what to do. And she wanted a quick solution before key staff members left for vacation.
Preparing for an Intervention
Pam and I met with Bob. While he knew there was a problem, he didn’t seem to understand the effect that his behavior was having on the others. As far as he was concerned, he wanted to do a good job and make sure the company put out a good product. He understood that he could sometimes get impatient, but he thought that things were being blown out of proportion and that the people in account services were simply too sensitive. He was willing to work with us because he knew that things could not continue as they had been, and because he was frustrated that the efforts he had already made to modify his behavior seemed to be unrecognized. He was unhappy being seen as the “problem.”
Next we met with the four project managers in account services. Of the four, one got along well with Bob and had no issues with him. Another had a number of ongoing issues with Bob, and there seemed to be a mutual lack of respect between them. The other two had each experienced a serious incident with Bob in the past. These incidents continued to effect workplace dynamics because they had become the “lens” through which all of Bob’s actions were viewed. The project managers willing to work with us, and willing to sit down with Bob to try to resolve things.
Once we had buy-in from everyone we needed to decide on the right intervention for this group. Both of us have seen the harm that can come from the wrong intervention or from an intervention done in the wrong way, so we were cautious. We felt that Bob genuinely wanted to have better relations with the others, and we wanted to make sure that he would not be “shamed” by whatever we did. We didn’t want the account services team to gang up on him as this would have damaged relations further. We wanted the intervention to be as positive as possible, yet still make it clear to Bob that he needed to change aspects of his behavior. And we wanted the account services team to understand how they may have been contributing to the tension.
A Workplace Circle
After some reflection Pam and I decided to use a circle process with this group. This kind of process has a long history and appears in many cultures throughout the world. Participants sit in a circle and take turns speaking. The “circle keeper” directs the conversation by asking questions. All participation is voluntary and participants may choose to remain silent if they wish.
As the circle keeper, I slowly brought the conversation around to issues of respect and particularly respect in the workplace. With caution, members of the account services team moved away from generalities about respect and about working together and began to talk about their own workplace. The two team members who had “incidents” with Bob talked about them. It wasn’t easy, as talking about the past brought back the same emotions as the incidents themselves did. But ultimately, this release of emotion allowed everyone to move on.
As Pam and I had suspected, Bob really hadn’t grasped the effect he was having on others, or the lasting impact of the previous incidents on the current situation. When he realized that his behavior had been hurtful, he apologized.
One of the advantages of the circle process is that people end up really listening to one another. Bob heard from the others, and they also listened to him. The account services team learned that they had made some incorrect assumptions about Bob, and that some of their practices had been making it harder for him to do his job. Everyone committed to find ways of working together more effectively from then on.
I called Jane a few days after the circle meeting. I couldn’t share the specifics of what was said, as we had promised the participants that the circle would be confidential. But I was able to tell Jane that everyone had participated fully and that Pam and I appreciated the trust they had all put in us. Jane told me that things definitely had improved. People seemed less tense and better able to put their energy into work. I followed up again after a couple of months. She told me that things had continued to hold and that her job was a bit easier: “I feel like I can make other changes within the organization that will help us move in a positive direction. I can also focus my energy on other things.”
Names and details have been changed to preserve client confidentiality.