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February 1, 1999

Some thoughts on Labour Management Relationships
So many people involved in labour-management relationships want to work cooperatively, minimize the amount of time and money spent on aribitration hearngs and legal bills and solve their own problems - by themselves.  That cooperative relationships are beneficials to everyone concerned appears to be recognized by even the hardest of hardball players.  But despite this, even those who want very much for things to get better find the going can be tough.  In addition,  there isn't a lot of help available that is practical and affordable.  In our years of rolling around the countryside mediating disputes we've had a chance to meet labour-management groups whose relationships ranged from really good to really bad.  Most were closer to "bad" and so the "good" ones really stood out and were quite memorable.  They also had some very common features in terms of the way the labour and management representatives dealt with each other.  This was also true of the really lousy relationships - there were many common threads and it didn't really matter what industry or occupation we were dealing with.  It seems that no matter what kind of work you're involved in or who you work for, the stuff people do and do to each other is pretty much the same and has predictable results as far as the labour-management relationship goes.

So for our first advice and insight piece, here's a quick summary of what seems to make good and bad relationships.  Have a quick read through and see if you can see yourself and your organization in either of these two columns (you do not have to fit squarely into one by the way).  If you are unhappy with the way things are going in your L/M relationship think about how people are handling their dealings with each other.  By changing the way you do things, you can change the way you get along (really!).

Labour-Management Relationships:  The Good and the Bad
Some Common Characteristics
Good (Cooperative) Bad (Adversarial)
Parties accept/understand each other's presence and respect each other's interests. Each hopes the other will disappear.
Deal with problems with a view to finding solutions. Fight, take positions, blame each other.
Learn from the past. Dwell on the past.
Adopt a conciliatory approach in their discussions. Trade inflammatory rhetoric.
Actively pursue solutions. Await capitulation by the other side.
Open-minded, flexible, do what it takes to get the job done. Rigid, formal,  form-over-substance.
Go one-step-at-a-time when tackling difficult issues. Everything is wrong until everything is right.
Listen and hear what is being said. Obsess over hidden agendas.
Use grievance procedure constructively, as a problem-solving process. Use grievance procedure as a venue to fight.
Focus on issues. Go off on tangents.
Deal in options. Deal in ultimatums.
Rely on selves to solve problems. Rely on third parties to impose solutions.
Interested in how other side is effected. Self-interested.
Look for input, assume there may be more to a situation than meets the eye. We're always right, they're always wrong.
"What do they see that I don't see?" "Why can't they see it my way?"

Where do you want to be?