WorkPeace: Do Your Bit

Believing that most people have about 15 percent control over their work situations, the Army asks everyone, no matter their rank, “What’s your 15% of the problem?” “Where do you have freedom to act?”

Why My 15% Matters

No matter what type of organization you work in, adopting a My 15% approach demonstrates personal resolve to deal with workplace conflict, in positive ways.

My 15% is a reality check on the challenge of changing personal habits, and shifting the dynamics of workplace relationships, for the better.

My 15% aligns with the ‘unconditionally constructive’ approach advocated for in that interest-based negotiation bible, Getting to Yes.

My 15% is doable.

The My 15% Rule

From the U.S. Army’s Applied Critical Thinking (Training) Handbook:

Most people have about 15 percent control over their work situations. The other 85 percent rests in the broader context, shaped by the general structures, systems, events and culture in which they operate. The challenge rests in finding ways of creating transformational change incrementally: By encouraging people to mobilize small but significant “15 percent initiatives” that can snowball in their effects. When guided by a sense of shared vision, the process can tap into the self-organizing capacities of everyone involved. It doesn’t matter if you’re a General Officer or an enlisted soldier, a Senior Executive or a member of the team. You still have only your 15 percent. Where do you have freedom to act? What’s in your 15%?

Believing that good ideas can come from anywhere (including the Army), I see My 15% as a resource, adaptable to any problem-solving context in which individual accountability plays a factor. My 15% is another tool for your conflict management toolkit.

Your 15%  

As a workplace leader, here are three ways you can do your part, your 15%, as a conflict manager:

1. Increase Self-Awareness – Yours and Others

Gaining awareness of one’s behaviours and ‘hot buttons’ is fundamental to increasing individual conflict competency, and building a conflict competent workplace. “It’s great to see how Jim has progressed, in understanding his own behaviours, and how they impact others on the team.”

2. Have Difficult Conversations

Conversations change us. As a leader, when conflict arises, you are responsible for ensuring the difficult conversations take place (even if you’re not actually facilitating them, yourself), and that they lead to productive outcomes; “I would never had thought it possible, yet bringing the two of them together, they learned more about each other, and found their common ground, for working together.”

3. Guide Others

Serve as a role model through your actions. Culture starts at the top. Coach. Mentor. “Sara has really found her management groove. She is such a role model. She truly lives our organization’s most valued behaviours, through her support of others.”

Conflict may be inevitable. How you deal with it isn’t.

Do your bit!

Ben ZieglerGuest blogger Ben Ziegler is a Civil Roster mediator who is on a mission to enable individuals and organizations to fully engage in, and benefit from open communication, collaborative action, and a culture of fairness. He is an independent Workplace Conflict Management and Fairness Specialist. Find out more about Ben’s busy practice in Victoria and as an Online Dispute Resolution Specialist at

WorkPeace: Prepare to Finish Well

Days or weeks later, one of the parties informs the HR manager or supervisor “there’s a problem again, I thought we had this resolved, but it’s happening again.”

It seems the parties’ recollections of the mediation are different, and some of the parties are now challenging the items – often details – agreed to at the mediation.  This is a disappointing turn of events and parties’ emotions run high at the thought of being bound by an agreement they don’t like.

The trick for an HR manager or supervisor who has helped resolve a conflict is to prevent this scenario from happening after your intervention.  Here are a few pointers that you as HR Manager or supervisor can use to help prevent this from happening:

  • At the outset, be sure that all parties agree on a clear statement of the problem(s) to be resolved; allow enough time to hear all of the scenarios or problems that are of concern, to avoid something being missed
  • Also be clear about what the parties want to accomplish; identify the common objectives of the parties in simple language
  • Be sure to brainstorm options without conditions or qualifiers, and without judgment (dissent or criticism), initially
  • Spend time reviewing each option in detail, encourage the parties to imagine how each option would play out in the workplace; in a respectful manner flush out all the advantages and disadvantages of each option
  • Connect each option to the parties’ common objectives; to be useful later, an option must support a common objective
  • Before concluding, spend time with the parties writing down the intended agreement, including concrete examples of how the chosen option or outcome will work, and how the parties involved will be impacted – the more examples the better
  • Arrange a follow-up with the participants to ensure that the agreement is working; this should happen within a few days or a week of the intervention

Remember, resolving a workplace conflict is influenced by the corporate culture, or flavour of the workplace environment. Workplace conflicts are unique as they usually blend personal and corporate concerns and interests.  There’s a lot of room for misunderstanding.  The best way to be sure that all parties finish well is to ensure there is a clear and concrete understanding of the solutions agreed to, along with a timely and meaningful follow-up by the HR manager or supervisor who has been involved.

Susan SmithGuest blogger Susan Smith is a Civil Roster mediator who focuses her practice on helping workplaces effectively manage high conflict disputes through coaching and mediation. She also specializes in providing online mediation. Find out more about Susan’s busy Vancouver practice at


Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash


WorkPeace: Apple Pie and an Open Heart

Maybe this sounds like a story of apple pie and motherhood, but I have seen relationships transformed through mediation. Repeatedly.

The process of working through the mess of conflict can provide insight about ourselves and a deeper understanding and appreciation of the people with whom we work.

Theory U, developed by Otto Scharmer and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), offers a framework for approaching positive change and a useful way to look at conflict.

According to Theory U, we humans have choices to make about how we move through the world, choices that take us either along a U-shaped path of destruction or a path of co-creating.

These are daily choices.

Of course, most of us never choose to be on the path of destruction, but we get there sometimes because of our habits of thought and action. And the way to get on the path of co-creating is to be mindful and intentional. So, lets look at these paths and the choices we can make in relation to conflict.

The path of destruction begins with denial. This might look like: “Not me. I am fine. Fake news!” From denial, we move to de-sensing and absencing, where we close off and shut down. And then we deceive ourselves and others until we reach destruction. What keeps us on this path of destruction is a closed mind or ignorance, a closed heart or greed, and closed will or fear.  Sound familiar?

In contrast, the path to co-creation begins with seeing, looking at the situation with fresh eyes. This requires curiosity and an open mind. From seeing, we move along the U to sensing, which asks us to be empathic, and brings us to presencing. When we are fully present with the new information and insight about self and other, we can move along the path to trying out new ways of interacting. We might come up with commitments for how we will talk to each other, or make promises to stop doing things that are annoying or hurtful. We exercise our good will towards each other, which enables us to co-create a new chapter of the relationship.

The next time you find yourself in a conflict or mediating the conflict of others, try on Theory U as an organizing framework for moving forward in a positive way.

Lead with curiosity to open your mind.

Ask: What can we learn? What new or different information can I take in?  What assumptions am I making?

Flex your compassion muscle.

Allow compassion to eclipse judgment. Step into the “other’s” shoes.

Have the courage to do things differently.

Make an offer. Make a request. Try on a new way of being.


Lori CharvatGuest blogger Lori Charvat is a Civil Roster mediator who focuses on workplace conflict, employee engagement, leadership development and change management. She is a Certified Executive Coach and a Prosci certified change management practitioner. Lori has a busy practice in Vancouver as principal of Sandbox Consulting.




WorkPeace: From Pinch to Opportunity

Or how about that complaining employee who you wish would get over it? Or can you relate to having too many pressing deadlines to spare the time for trivial matters?

If you recognize yourself above, I’d like to invite you to reassess. As a workplace mediator, I talk with both sides in conflicts – the manager and employee, the peers, or the whole team. My job is to help people move through impasses and hopefully reconcile.

I usually start with a private, one on one conversation with each individual involved. This kind of setting is intended to feel comfortable and safe enough to reveal some of the miscommunications, hurts and damage that have accumulated over weeks, months or even years. Fairly quickly, people start to tell me the truth of the situation as they see it.

What I want you to know is that, after thousands of hours of these kinds of conversations, spanning the last 25 years of my career, there is one significant lesson I think you want to hear. When I ask, almost everyone can tell me where the conflict started, and that starting place is often insignificant and small.

So small in fact, we have a name for it in our field, we call it a “pinch.” These pinches seem too small to make the effort.

Recently, a good friend said something to me at a book club event that sounded a bit harsh. In the big scheme of things, her comment was really not a big deal. In fact, it’s easy to think I could be over-sensitive. But I knew from my own experience, if I didn’t talk with her about that micro-moment, it could affect other things. Sure enough, I saw her do something else innocuous and I stayed aloof a few weeks later, On some level, she picked up on the little shift in our dynamic.

That is precisely how destructive conflict can start.

One party experiences something they define as “disrespectful” but perhaps too small to clarify. Then one or two other pinches happen and start to be coded as more examples of disrespect. Let a few of those micro-moments go by, throw in a conversation or two complaining to someone else, and we start to pick up steam!

Knowing this, I approached my friend and asked if we could talk about something small as I wanted to clear the air. She agreed. I shared my moment, and the presumably completely unintended consequence on me – and then asked about her experience. She received my perspective graciously, acknowledged she had felt the tension too, and shared about what was happening for her at that time. Of course, much of it had little to do with me, but taking the time we both did to speak about our own experience and to be curious about each other brought us closer together.

It turned the pinch into an opportunity.

I’d like to invite you do a little experiment of your own. Think back to a really bad conflict in your life. Something you’d say was a disaster, toxic, not good. Got it? Now can you think of any early signs that something was amiss? This may take some reflecting, as it’s easy to not even notice those small moments. If you can find some– ask yourself: What did I choose to do about it? In retrospect, what might have been the consequence if first addressed as a pinch?

It takes a bit of effort to make talking about a pinch a priority, but it ups the chances you never have to go looking for someone like me!

If you want to keep the dialogue going, I’d love to hear from you! 


Julia MenardGuest blogger Julia Menard is a Mediate BC Civil Roster mediator in Victoria, BC. For 20 years, Julia has been helping people, businesses, and government organizations resolve conflict constructively. To find out more, visit



Photo by Andras Kovacs on Unsplash


WorkPeace: The Cold Hard Message

Some very funny messages are sent with unintended consequences. Social media can be a great tools and have been the catalyst for many changes in the work place. They all have some short comings that make it necessary to use caution in sending a message.

Using them does allow us to get our thoughts to someone very quickly. This may be the problem. We tend not to re-read what we are about to send off and generally we do not stop to think how the message may be received.

What is missing is that we do not have a reliable way of conveying our true intentions (emojis may well convey a false or flippant emotion).

We need to be clear in what we say and how we say it.

This may take a bit more time when you write the message, however it will avoid multiple emails and a lot more time to correct a misinterpreted message.

This is a two-way street  – which means that as a recipient of unclear messages we should err on the side of caution and give the benefit of the doubt to the sender.  You can always ask for clarification of the message to ensure that you have a solid understanding of what is being asked or stated.  This will help you to make a fully informed decision as to whether you can comply with or make a sound response to what has been stated. We need to be just as vigilant in our response, knowing how words can seem cold or harsh in a response.

Here are some quick steps to help avoid conflict in messaging:

  1. Know your intention.
  2. Take a moment to consider the impact
  3. If you are unclear about the message, ask questions

If you are the sender, make sure that your message is clear and non-threatening.

If you are the receiver, make sure you understand what is being stated or asked.  When in doubt, ask for clarification.

This all seems simple, however at the pace of the workplace these days, one needs to be aware that mistakes can happen quickly and we all need to do what we can to prevent conflict whenever possible.


Dan WilliamsDaniel Williams is a Mediate BC Civil Roster mediator. Based in Kamloops, Dan provides conflict management and mediation to unionized and non-union workplaces, the construction industry, for insurance claims, and more. Find out more at


This post is part of Mediate BC’s WorkPeace series: mediator tips for addressing workplace conflict effectively.