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:
Van Sickle v. Conlon, 2014 ONSC 5437
Decision Date: September 18, 2014
In 2011 the plaintiff and the defendant were Directors on the Board of a Housing Co-op. After a meeting to discuss a possible eviction, Ms Van Sickle took with her a copy of the confidential report discussing the matter. Mr. Conlon sent an email message to the Board members with the subject line, “Verna’s theft of the document from the meeting on Thursday night.” Ms. Van Sickle sued Mr. Conlon for defamation; she won and was awarded $7500. In this appeal, Mr. Conlon challenges the Deputy Judge’s treatment of his defense in the original trial. Mr. Conlon’s defenses were 1) that it was in fact true that Ms Van Sickle had stolen documents; and 2) qualified privilege (that is, he had the right to criticize her to protect the dignity of the Co-op). Deputy Judge Richardson rejected both defenses. Mr. Conlon had a “total and reckless disregard for the truth” and his conduct was found to be “malicious” (hence the defense of qualified privilege was rejected.) Justice Perell, the appeal judge, found no reviewable error and dismissed the appeal. Costs were fixed at $12, 000.
Comment: Although this case involved the Directors of a Housing Co-op (rather than a condominium), all Board Members should take note.
The client who asked me this question was an intelligent and caring manager. She sounded genuinely bewildered, and she wanted to know how things had deteriorated between her division and the other team. She was disconcerted that things had “gone off the rails” in such a short time.
And so I reviewed the history with her. There was an incident – angry words from one staff member to another. (The details are unimportant. I’ll call the perpetrator “Bob” and the person on the receiving end “Sally.”) The result was that Sally felt disrespected and hurt. Others in the company either witnessed the incident or heard about it from witnesses. Sally discussed the matter with the company’s HR person, but as far as she knew, no action was taken.
What was the result? What messages did the company send? Bob got the message that his angry outburst was acceptable workplace behavior. Sally got the message that it was OK that she was disrespected, and that even if she stood up for herself and raised a concern, nothing would happen. Others in the company who knew about the incident got the message that disrespectful behavior was tolerated, and that there was no point in going to HR.
What happened next was easy to predict. People who liked Sally (and there were many) felt indignation on her behalf and resentment both towards Bob and towards management for their failure to respond. People who liked Bob felt conflicted because they couldn’t approve of how he had behaved. Everyone was uncomfortable. Nobody wanted to discuss the incident so it became the “elephant in the room.” Bob and Sally had to work together on a regular basis, and the tension between them never went away. Soon that tension had infected others in both departments, and small incidents – the sorts of things that would have been brushed aside in the past – took on outsize importance.
Of course, while my client had been in the middle of the conflict between her division and Bob’s division, she couldn’t see its causal history. She could only see the tension and the effect it was having on workplace relations and on productivity. Once we had gone through the history together, she could easily see where she could have acted differently. Things got to a point she regretted, but I don’t think she will let things get out of hand again.
Boily v. Carleton Condominium Corporation 145, 2014 ONCA 574
Decision Date: August 6, 2014
I first wrote about this case in the post “Bad Faith and What it Means for Condo Board Members.” In a ruling in March 2013, Justice Beaudoin found that the Board had acted in bad faith in managing some post-repair landscaping. He ordered that Board members be held personally responsible both for the cost of enforcing the order they had violated, and for the cost of restoring the property to its previous state. In this action, the Board members appeal the finding of contempt of court and the penalties ordered by Justice Beaudoin (particularly the order that they pay the cost of restoration.) Here the judges of the appeal court uphold the finding of contempt, but set aside the sanction that the Board members pay the cost of restoration. Instead Board members were each ordered to pay a fine of $7500 to the Corporation. While any contempt of court is serious, the judges took into consideration that the Board members were not motivated by personal gain or vengeance, but by the conviction that “they knew best.” However their failure to seek legal advice was seen as an aggravating factor. The appeal court reasoned that Justice Beaudoin had made an error in principle by basing the penalty on the cost of restoration, rather than on the desirability of deterring violations of court orders. One justice dissented and would have set aside the finding of contempt.
Comment: Justice Epstein, writing for the majority, said that this case was “particularly unfortunate” because if the Board members had sought legal advice, the parties would have saved time, money and avoided needless acrimony.
York Region Standard Condominium Corp. No. 1113 v. Antonelli, 2014 ONSC 4844
Decision Date: August 14, 2014
In May 2014 the Corporation obtained a judgment against Mr. Antonelli to immediately and permanently remove two dogs from his unit. Mr. Antonelli was not present when the motion was heard. In this action, the Corporation seeks an order of contempt against him, and an order permitting them to engage a contractor to remove the animals. Mr. Antonelli brings a motion to set aside the original decision and to return to the court in February 2015. Justice Emery declined to grant Mr. Antonelli’s request and found for the Corporation. The dogs must be removed, and he must pay the costs of the motion (fixed at $10 000).
Comment: I don’t know the sequence of events that brought the parties to this point. Often the preliminary step in such a dispute is a letter to an owner from the condo board. As I have written before, owners should never ignore such letters and are advised to consult a condominium lawyer. Better pay for good advice now, than pay much more later in the absence of such advice.