I 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:
How 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.
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.
“We just don’t have the budget.”
Small organizations are often reluctant to bring in outside help because the cost of an intervention can represent a significant part of their budget. Yet the cost of workplace strife can be disproportionately higher for small organizations than for larger ones.
The cost of workplace strife, in both time wasted and money lost, is likely to be high for any organization. If your organization is big enough that conflict is causing you stress, then it is big enough to bring in outside help.
Here are some reasons why conflict in a smaller organization can be particularly stressful:
1. When relationships are strained in a small group, everyone knows about it and everyone is effected. Even those who don’t want to take sides may find it difficult not to be pulled in.
2. Relationships are more concentrated in small organizations. The smaller the group, the more intensely the conflict is likely to be felt. In a family of ten children, if two don’t get along the others can provide a buffer and help defuse tension. If two out of three siblings don’t get along, the third is likely to be caught in the middle.
3. In larger organizations there are many more options for moving people around and making it possible for individuals to avoid one another. People can be shuffled, re-assigned and transferred. But in a smaller organization, you can’t simply send someone to the Calgary office. Similarly, allowing certain employees to work from home may not be an option. So it is all the more important that everyone be able to work together effectively and respectfully.
4. If an employee leaves a small organization, he or she may take with them specific knowledge and skills that are not easily replaced. Other things, like institutional memory and long-standing relationships with suppliers and partners outside the organization, might simply be irreplaceable.
Both small and large organizations can benefit from workplace mediation. Don’t forget that a large organization is made of smaller units. While a mediator might work with an organization as a whole, say to advise on policy or help develop a code of conduct, we are also brought in to work with smaller units, and even with single individuals.
The good news is that while the cost of an intervention might be proportionally higher for a small organization than for a larger organization, the benefits are also likely to be disproportionately higher.
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