It’s 8 pm on a Tuesday night and Mandy has finally got the kids to bed, done the dishes and put the rubbish out. She’s back at her computer finally getting that work finished that she didn’t get to today.

What a crap day! She didn’t stop. One by one her team members had all come in to see her to discuss “that” incident from yesterday.  She just couldn’t get anything done.

And now she is exhausted. She has spent the day putting out fires; trying to stop the inevitable rumours that Alex is going to leave after the way he had been treated by Ben.  She tries to concentrate on her work; but she is struggling.  She has seen an email from her boss in her inbox that she hasn’t opened yet but the subject line is “Ben”. She thinks it best to leave this email until tomorrow morning or she won’t be able to sleep.

The team want to know what she is going to do about Ben; how can he be allowed to speak to Alex (or anyone) like that. Everyone saw it coming. Ben is such a bully; everyone knows it. But, despite all their whinging, no-one in the team will tell Ben that there is an issue. To make matters worse, Theo, her ever reliable PA, was going to put in a formal complaint but then withdrew it because he doesn’t want Ben to treat him like he treats Alex.

Shit!  She can’t pretend it didn’t happen. This time Ben went too far. She told him Alex was struggling and still he went there. Ugh!! Yet Ben can be so funny and clever; Mandy can see that he doesn’t mean to rub people up the wrong way.  

Mandy’s mind wanders… if Alex leaves then she might be able to save some money in her budget and finally get ahead… but… that probably won’t work.

What does she say to Alex if he comes into work tomorrow? What if he calls the union?  She’s tried everything to get Ben and Alex to get on; to communicate better. What if…? Maybe she could look for a transfer; maybe she’s not cut out to be a team leader.

Chances of Mandy getting some sleep tonight are zip!

Do you need a fresh pair of eyes to help you work through team issues? Do you need some guidance on how to deal with incivility or abrasive behaviour amongst your team? Call Kate at Adelaide Conflict Management on 0409 554 611.



Warning: there are a couple of Crabb and Sales “clang” name-dropping moments in this blog.

In July 2008, my son Tom travelled for 7 weeks all around the Flinders Ranges, filming Last Ride, his first feature film. He had a lead role and he was the only child on set. Tom was very fortunate to have his big sister, Lucy, on set to chaperone him. Last Ride had a small (read lean) cast and crew and they were a tight bunch. They all worked very hard for seven weeks straight and Tom had an absolute ball. This experience, to this day, would be one of the highlights of his life (and ours).

However the wheels started to fall off for Tom in the last week of filming. He was having a great time, he loved the people he was working with, his team, and he knew it was all about to come to an end. He was overwhelmed with emotions and he started to act out. At times he was moody and aggressive; other times he would be quite sad and needy. Tom was a 10 year old dealing with big emotions; he was grieving.

They filmed the last scene of the shoot at the skateboard ramp at Port Gawler. The cast and crew had worked hard all day filming the final scenes at various locations and it was very late when they filmed that last scene. We were all there huddled around the action in the car – a scene where Tom and his stage dad, Hugo Weaving (clang), were preparing to go to sleep in their car. Glendyn Ivin (clang), the director, got them to film the scene a couple more times than was probably necessary. No-one wanted the experience to end.

But then he called out “Cut. That’s a wrap” and there was cheering and hugging and tears and sparklers and celebrations. It was a hugely emotional experience for everyone but particularly for us. This had been an extraordinarily positive and rewarding experience not only for Tom but for the whole family.

Tom said his goodbyes. He hugged and kissed everyone and finally we took him home.

It was hard; he had to adapt to being an ordinary kid again. He had to go back to school. To do chores and homework. It took a few weeks before he was “back to normal”.  

During this time we were (in the main) understanding and tolerant of Tom’s sometimes moody behaviour. We had lots of hugs and a few tears, we spent a lot of time on the couch, just being with him. We looked after him and were there for him. Letting him feel his feelings in a safe environment.

Grief is a normal part of life. We can’t have the ups without some downs.  As a family that has a lot to do with the arts, we have had to deal with lots of ups and downs. It is a normal part of a performing artist’s life. Every show must end and the set is bumped out as soon as that last curtain call is over; every film director calls “That’s a wrap”.  It is the same in team sports. Football teams change every year; no two premiership teams are exactly the same.  The experience of working on a special project, of creating a new tool or technology, of building something special must eventually come to an end. The more special, the more enjoyable the experience, the more there is to grieve.  It’s not bad or wrong. It just is. We miss the experience, we miss the camaraderie, the joy and thrill of the moment. We will never have that exact experience again with those people.

What do we do when someone we know is grieving the loss of a family member or someone close to them? We are kind to them, we give them time out, we let them be in the moment, we take them meals, we take care of them.

However we are often less caring when the grief is about the letting go of an experience, or a team or of a fellow worker. We expect people to just get on with life, the job; to move on.

But grief is grief and we need to respect it. We need to acknowledge it and feel it and talk about it.  We need to understand that people are sometimes going to act out, behave badly, be rude, act selfishly. We need to be there for people and not take any inappropriate behaviour personally. It’s not about us; it’s about them feeling overwhelmed by their feelings.

There will be a lot of grief in a workplace where teams come to an abrupt end due to retrenchment or the end of a great project. School teachers have to say goodbye to their favourite students at the end of every year. Inspirational leaders retire and the culture of a workplace can change dramatically.

Some people’s behaviour when dealing with grief will be inappropriate or difficult; and it can easily lead to conflict.  The mood of a workplace can suddenly feel “toxic” due to high levels of stress. Some staff members may become more self absorbed and demanding. It can be a tough time.

This is when leaders need to demonstrate generosity and caring for everyone in their team. For teams to be more tolerant and understanding of their fellow team members. For those people in leadership roles to be their best and most generous selves. It will be difficult at times; but the consequences of not being kind and generous at this time will aggravate the stress levels of those most at risk.

PS: Tom is OK. He went on to make other films and he’s now studying drama at University.

What behaviours do you tolerate in your workplace?

Frank is a team leader of a team of ten people. He’s known for being quite grumpy and sarcastic.  He can be quick to criticise but deep down he has a heart of gold.

Tony joins the team. He really struggles with Frank’s management style. He eventually complains to Frank’s manager but is told “That’s just Frank. He’s always been like that. Don’t take it personally”.

Tony tries to not let Frank’s comments get to him; but he is struggling. He is having trouble sleeping and is feeling anxious during the day. He starts making mistakes in his work because he is struggling to concentrate. His productivity has reduced dramatically. Some days he just doesn’t want to come to work; some days he doesn’t get to work.

Then one day Frank is particularly rude to Tony about something pretty minor. Tony decides that he can’t go on like this. He makes a formal complaint about Frank’s behaviour. Tony feels management drag the chain in dealing with the matter and he eventually goes out on stress leave. 

What is the cost to that organisation of not addressing Frank’s behaviour? What is the cost to the organisation of the relatively high turnover of staff in Frank’s team? What is the cost to the organisation with Tony going out on stress leave?

And chances are Frank doesn’t recognize that there is a problem because no-one has ever told him that there is. He just thinks that he is firm but fair. He is not aware of how his grumpy approach is intimidating to some of his staff; no-one has ever had the courage to tell him about how he is perceived by his team.

What behaviours are you tolerating in your organisation and how are they affecting your bottom line?

Do you need help managing some difficult personalities in your organisation?

I often come across workplaces where they urgently need help to deal with a workplace conflict because the situation has become untenable. But when I start asking questions about when the issues first started to be a problem, I am sheepishly told, 2 years ago, 10 years ago – and once I was told 30 years ago!

An organisation will side-step around the issues that are causing members of their team a significant amount of grief, lost productivity and sometimes result in staff turnover.

Then suddenly something happens, something big, something that cannot be ignored and then this problem that has been hanging over everyone’s head for years, can no longer be ignored and there is an urgent need to resolve it.

So why do we delay resolving these issues immediately; why do we cause ourselves extended periods of pain? Why do we let an entire team suffer, so we can protect one person who is “high conflict” or “difficult”. Why do we tolerate inappropriate language, behaviour or performance for years on end?

The reason we don’t deal with conflict in the workplace is because we don’t want (or sometimes even know how) to start that difficult conversation. We don’t know where it will go and we don’t want to open a can of worms. We don’t trust ourselves to do it well and we don’t want to appear to be sitting in judgment of other people. So we sit on the issue and hope and pray that the “difficult” person will work it out, read the body language of the other staff, and inherently know that they are the problem and as a result terminate their own employment.

The reality is that many “high conflict” or “difficult” people have little awareness of how their behaviour and actions might be impacting on others and often no-one tells them. They may be living with a mental illness, they may have low self esteem and poor self awareness. They may not be able to read the non-verbal cues or people’s body language.  In my experience these “difficult” people are often horrified when they find out that their behaviour is having an negative impact on a workplace and their level of shame is exacerbated because the problem has gone on for years and no-one told them.

It’s not fair on any of your staff not to deal with conflict when it arises. You can’t hide problems by pretending that they are not there.

At ACM we specialise in dealing with “difficult or high conflict” people. We can help you start that conversation. We can provide a safe space for a difficult conversation. To find out more about how we can help your workplace, call Kate on 0409 554 611.

We’ve all heard it… colleagues spending countless hours whining and whinging about the things other people/management do/don’t do/should do/could do…

It’s exhausting to listen to and it’s unproductive. These conversations are often petty and destabilising to management and teams. Endless gossipy conversations within a team reflect a negative workplace culture and diminish the capacity of the team to be effective.

And yet, so often, management tolerate the petty infighting, the moaning and groaning.  They accept it as part of normal office culture. Some managers that I have worked have tried to sort out the problems by asking for “honest” feedback in the hope that they will get to the bottom of the problem, and then are surprised when no-one speaks up.

Employees are not going to “dob in” their boss or their colleagues to the boss. Nor are they going to be the one that rocks the boat; that takes responsibility for the unhappy culture of the organisation.  That’s way too risky. There is a risk that if you speak up, you will then become the target of the criticism – so it’s just not going to happen.

So how do leaders/managers create a culture where people stop complaining?

  1. Call it out. If someone complains, ask them what are you going to do about the problem? As an individual in a workplace you don’t have to take on the problems of others. However you will be part of the problem if you listen to people complain and whinge and don’t encourage real action about the complaint.
  2. Increase the opportunities for staff to raise issues. Hold regular staff meetings and other touch point meetings and encourage staff to talk about what is working well and what can be done better. Be open to suggestions for improvement; make it safe for staff to speak up.
  3. Focus on the great work your organisation does. If you believe in what you do then sell it. Lots of workplaces are doing great work; but the work itself is hard. Don’t focus on how hard the work is or the problems that arise from time to time; focus on the value of the work you do for the greater good of society.
  4. Encourage staff to address problems immediately. Practice speaking up; provide training on assertiveness and conflict management techniques; make it ordinary and safe to have a critical conversation.
  5. Empower staff to problem solve.  Give them the tools, space and trust to resolve issues. A lot of management time can be taken up resolving internal staff disputes. Trust them, as adults, to resolve these issues themselves. Don’t try and fix everything immediately; let the staff members attempt to resolve it themselves and support them to do that.
  6. Celebrate successes regularly. That way you focus on the good stuff; and stop sweating the small stuff.
  7. Check in at the end of every week. What worked well this week? What could we improve? Language is important. If you start the conversation with “what went wrong” this week, the tone of the conversation will deteriorate into negative territory.

If you want a positive work environment – create it.

Are there ongoing disputes in your workplace? Is that unresolved conflict impacting on the vibe of the whole office?

If there is a problem, the only way it is going to get better is if someone takes some action; if you actually talk about it. And the best way to help is get someone independent in to help address the issues.

Mediation is a structured process where the mediator facilitates a conversation between two or more parties to help them resolve an ongoing dispute. Or as I like to say – mediation is having a difficult conversation with a safety net. The mediator doesn’t decide who is right or wrong; they help the parties work through the issues to resolve the problem themselves and the whole process is confidential.

So when should you seek out a mediator? Here are some examples:

  1. You’ve tried to resolve the problem yourselves but it didn’t work out

There are often problems that just don’t seem to go away despite the best effort of management. Sometimes it takes an outside person with no emotional attachment to the dispute to help everyone see the forest for the trees (that they couldn’t see before).

  1. When a staff member takes stress leave because of unresolved conflict

The situation has gone beyond a workplace dispute when one of the parties to that dispute goes on stress leave. This is a situation that might result in a WorkCover claim. This is a great time to see whether the situation can be turned around with the help of a mediator.

  1. Straight after a big “blow up” incident between two or more staff members that needs immediate attention

Tempers are flared, people have said things they wouldn’t normally say, the elephant in the room may have been named. The situation has the potential to become explosive and damaging for the whole workplace. The staff needs to see that management is caring, responsive and responsible. Call a mediator.

  1. When there has been an allegation of bullying or harassment against a staff member

Management need to demonstrate to the rest of their workforce that they will not tolerate bullying or harassment; they also need to demonstrate that they are not taking sides. Getting a mediator in ensures that everyone knows that this situation is being taken seriously but it also respects that there are two sides to any story and gives both parties an opportunity to get stuff off their chest.

  1. When a complaint is made against a manager

It’s too close to management for someone from within management to be able to resolve this issue. How can they be seen to be even-handed when one of their own is under attack? Best to protect the integrity of the organisation and call in an independent mediator to work with the parties.

These disputes deserve to be taken seriously. Getting someone in to resolve the issues from outside the organisation demonstrates that not only you care about your staff but more importantly that you provide a safe working environment.

If you have an argument with your partner or your child just before you go to bed chances are that you won’t sleep well. You’ll wake still smouldering about the argument and this funk will be with you when you get to work.

In much the same way, if you have to deal with conflict at work chances are that when you go home you will still have that work conflict in your head. You’ll be running arguments and things you’d like to say to the person at work who is giving you all this grief, your attention won’t be focused on your family and you will be in another funk.

Of the two, you are much more likely to resolve the home conflict because you trust those personal relationships more – they are safer. You can disagree with a spouse or your child and know that your relationship is not going to end.

But you may not resolve the conflict at work so easily. It is scary to speak up in a work situation; you may lose your job, you may be ousted by your social group, you might get yelled at by your boss. So chances are that you might bring home that work conflict day after day because it is not getting dealt with.

What impact is that having on your family and your personal relationships?