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I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"Hate conflict? Just follow these steps"/ toxic work environment

Feb. 14, 2016 Inline image"Hate conflict?  Just follow these steps": I cut out this article by Harvey Schacter in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 23, 2015.  These are helpful tips on how to deal with conflict in a constructive way:

Conflict confounds us. Inevitably, we come away from tense conversations feeling that we might have done better if only we had been less emotional and steadier. But Dana Caspersen, who has a master’s degree in conflict studies and combines coaching with her career as a dancer and performer, says that what we need to do is practise 17 simple principles.

Ms. Caspersen, who divides her time between Germany and Vermont, notes that there are many moments of relatively low-level conflict during the day that allow such practice. After learning the principles, you can apply them in such situations, evaluating your performance and making adjustments for the next instance. You could also set a theme for a day, such as “when listening, avoiding making suggestions.”

We usually think that being successful at handling conflict depends heavily, if not entirely, on the other person, which might make personal practice seem irrelevant. But she says we can take the lead, practising certain actions that will change our behaviour and will tend to change the direction of the conversation.

In her book Changing the Conversation, she sets out the 17 principles in three broad sections.

Facilitate learning and speaking

1. Don’t hear the attack. Listen for what is behind the words.

2. Resist the urge to attack. Change the conversation from inside the conflict.

3. Talk to the other person’s best self.

4. Differentiate needs, interests, and strategies.

5. Acknowledge emotions. See them as signals.

6. Differentiate between acknowledgment and agreement.

7. When listening, avoid making suggestions.

8. Differentiate between evaluation and observation.

9. Test your assumptions. Relinquish them if they prove to be false.

Change the conversation

10. Develop curiosity in difficult situations.

11. Assume useful dialogue is possible, even when it seems unlikely.

12. If you are making things worse, stop.

13. Figure out what is happening, not whose fault it is.

Look for ways forward

14. Acknowledge conflict. Talk to the right people about the real problem.

15. Assume undiscovered options exist. Seek solutions people willingly support.

16. Be explicit about agreements. Be explicit when they change.

17. Expect and plan for future conflict.

Each principle breaks conflict down into a series of decisions. You don’t have to change your personality or emotional deftness. You can just follow these steps.

Asked to highlight the most important or difficult ones, she starts with the very first.

It isn’t urging you to become a martyr or allow the other individual to get away with wildly unacceptable behaviour. But you must listen for what is being said, even if it is hurtful, so you can steer the conversation back to the issue at hand.

“Don’t become emotional. Take a step back and refocus on the important point. The other person will probably respond in kind – at least, they are more likely to,” she said in the interview. It’s not likely you will be emotionless but the idea is to dampen such feelings while staying locked on the informational content. State what you are hearing – what seems to be important to the other person. We all want to be heard in a conflict, and these informational statements will help keep things on track.

The second principle builds upon that and is where we often go wrong. No matter how bad it gets – no matter how frustrated or angry you are – don’t attack.

It’s fine to state your feelings, such as, “I feel frustrated because it’s important to me [that] we patch up this situation,” but stay focused on the informational aspects, what you have seen and what you would like to achieve. “It seems really tricky to do this at first. But the more we practise, the better we can be,” she said.

Often in conflict, we assume the worst of the other person, fearing they will overreact to anything we say. Instead, approach the other individual with respect and goodwill, according to the third principle. “Somewhere inside, the person is someone capable of having a useful dialogue,” she insisted.

Often, emotions get heightened in conflict and we want to suppress them completely. But she says emotions are part of the way we think – they aren’t optional. At the same time, they are signals, indicating how we and the other person think.

“Emotions are frowned upon in the Western world. But it can be useful to say, ‘I see you’re furious about this.’ It’s a signal that helps both of you get down to what’s really important,” she said.

She reminds us that we can acknowledge what the other person is saying – indeed, should do so – without necessarily agreeing. If you start disagreeing immediately, that shifts the focus to you. Acknowledging keeps the focus on the other individual, indicates he or she is being heard, and then you can move on to your own thoughts and feelings.

Over all, her message is you don’t need to change yourself to be good at conflict – you just need to learn these principles, and change your actions accordingly, with practice.

"I feel threatened in this toxic work environment": I cut out this article in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 23, 2015:


I work at a methadone clinic in Ontario that is open 365 days a year and has very few staff. Recently a patient harassed a nurse outside our clinic and a complaint was filed with management and a doctor. No action was taken. When management was asked again if they would follow up with any support to staff or disciplinary action with the patient as per policies, a barrage of e-mail from the director of operations ensued, focusing blame on and undermining staff. I replied to the e-mails with the response of “expected,” as I and all other staff members anticipated the answers. The director of operations has stated that I must explain what “expected” means. I have replied twice with very simple replies, to the effect of “we expected your response and that is my answer.” I have been told that if I don’t have a better explanation that disciplinary action will follow. What or how should reply?

Greg Conner
Principal, Human Capital Dynamics

While your question is very specific, for me, the bigger picture is that there are classic signs of a workplace in serious trouble. Unfortunately, and somewhat paradoxically, it is not uncommon for those in the helping community to end up working in a toxic environment.

It doesn’t appear there is a Health and Safety plan that is robust enough to anticipate and adequately deal with the types of problems that led to the current situation. Having worked in this environment, I understand the stress on staff (and patients), and clear boundaries need to be set and maintained as to acceptable behaviours and actions.

You need a working committee comprised of representatives from management and staff to deal with these and the other obvious management/employee issues. At the end of the day everyone wants the same thing. A safe environment where clients are cared for and everyone is respected. Not too much to ask for, in my opinion. If your working committee keeps focused on those key principles, things will improve dramatically in so many ways.

Having said that, with respect to your specific question, were I you, I would respond with a request (and provincial health and safety legislation would support) that a meeting be held to discuss workplace health and safety issues. Also, having spent 25 years practising progressive employee relations, I would never support a manager threatening disciplinary action in this or any similar situation. We don’t punish people for expressing valid concerns, even if we don’t like how they expressed them.

Hon. Sheila Copps
Former deputy prime minister

No one should have to put up with harassment on the job. Given the added volatility of working in a methadone clinic, you should exercise your right to a harassment-free workplace.

However you also need to be clear and explicit about just what has transpired and what should be done about it.
Your terse e-mail did not offer any information about the nature of the harassment. It was also dripping with sarcasm and simply reinforced your lack of confidence in your supervisor’s ability to problem solve.
Now you have become the issue.

To turn it around, you need to communicate in clear terms to your boss and include their supervisor in the exchanges.
Set down in writing your specific expectations to abolish harassment and ask for a written response.
Keep everyone in the loop and do not turn this issue into an attack on your boss.
After all, everyone working at the clinic shares a common goal: a harassment-free workplace.

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David G. Lewis 353 days ago
It is a good article, but none of this will work with the kind of person who looks at every confrontation as a way to win and to always be right.


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