Author: Brandon Grysko

Founder & Principal of Workplace Dispute Resolution, LLC -- a conflict management and mediation company dedicated to promoting workplace harmony and reducing the cost of conflict.

Build Better Labor-Management Relationships: Start with your own Team

Build positive relationships with the other “side” by first working on the weak links in your own team.

The Down and Dirty: Sometimes negative perceptions, disciplinary issues, and repeat offenders within your team require a different, more calculated approach.

Why Bother? Because the team member, employee, negotiator (whatever the role) won’t be effective unless taught how to manage those perceptions and communicate effectively.

The Takeaway: Consider coaching when there’s that one guy or gal that can’t seem to get along, even after repeatedly told the error of his or her ways and even after experiencing some negative consequences. Anyone can be a conflict coach. Give it a shot before looking to hire it out.

The Story:

We’ll call him Roger. Roger is a good employee and works hard to get the job done. Roger is young and full of fire, though. He also likes to socialize and is relatively informal with senior peers, supervisors, and management.

Minor flaws in performance or style are generally overlooked as long as the most important work is getting done. Naturally, Roger was surprised when he got sat down by his supervisor and chewed out over a pretty minor issue with how he handled a task, even though the result was net positive.

Management seemed to be picking on him. The union was concerned that management was soon to bring formal discipline. Roger came to me upset and frustrated.

No one likes to be attacked or confronted with a statement of guilt or fault. That type of approach is likely to generate anxiety and a defensive response. So how did I get Roger to focus on the solution without getting defensive?

I had Roger acknowledge the facts and perceptions. After Roger told me about a couple of similar situations, I asked him, “Roger, why do you think the supervisors continue with these sit-down meetings about minor issues?” Roger said something like, “Well, these issues are all pretty minor, and I’m doing the work and getting good results!”

“Roger, what if these minor issues are only coming up because of something else. What else might they be concerned about?”

“I’ve heard rumors that they think I’m cocky! But that’s ridiculous! I’m just trying to be friendly! I guess I just won’t talk to anyone from now on.”

Just by getting Roger to acknowledge the perception that he’s cocky, he begins to see a path forward. He sees how his behaviors connect to those perceptions, even though he still doesn’t think they’re accurate. From here, I used coaching and mediation principles so Roger could develop a measurable strategy to reduce the perception of his cockiness. Roger’s plan included measurable body language and verbal communication shifts. Importantly, I encouraged Roger to start with just a couple small changes. Too much change is overwhelming. Building momentum by starting small is critically important.

Here’s the kicker: It isn’t a one-n-done approach. Roger gets to go test out his theory, build momentum, and revisit the issue to develop and test new theories for even bigger results. When you’re perceived as being cocky or arrogant, it’s hard to shake. But people are surprisingly quick to notice change, even a small one. So from the very first action step, Roger was already chipping away at his image and building a new one.

What’s the impact, though?

  • Roger wins at a personal level with reduced stress and anxiety and better work relationships.
  • The union is less likely to represent Roger for formal disciplinary charges, including associated costs like arbitration.
  • Management has a better workplace culture and reduces their chances of grievance arbitration plus associated costs. Not to mention, front-line management can spend less time on conflict and more time dealing with productivity issues.

The true benefit of conflict management lies in time: Less time spent on conflict means more time doing the work and building the relationships that truly matter for business. Ultimately, if you want a better or different relationship with the other “side,” then start from within!

Get Rid of What Makes you Weak

Call to action: Can you get rid of one thing today that makes you weak? A sugary soda, an unhealthy food, a poisonous resentment??

Stress and anxiety in human beings lead to defensive behaviors. As you can imagine, this is a major complication when interacting with other people… like in the workplace, for example.

Getting rid of just one small thing that weakens you will help promote workplace harmony and reduce the cost of conflict.

A thousand small steps will get you farther than the one big step you never took.

The Slip


SLIPPERY WHEN WET! Beware the slippery slope of focusing on the past. Photo credit to Skitter Photo 

Recently, I mediated a dispute. Beforehand, I did some research. I looked up a couple of articles by well-known experts in the field. I wanted to get ideas on how to ask the very best questions to really get both sides thinking of interests rather than positions.

Right away, I could feel the frustration from one side. The plaintiff was owed some money for a period of time. The defendant stopped communicating about why the payment wasn’t forthcoming.

Then the defendant spoke, and I could instantly tell, he knew he owed the money. The heart of the dispute wasn’t really in dispute. He was at a loss. He felt like his insurance company should have covered him. But they didn’t because he was feuding with them over a (wrongfully?) cancelled policy.

The defendant clearly articulated that he was confused about what to do and didn’t have a clear idea of what his legal rights were. Further, he didn’t have the money up front because his income was tied up in commissions that hadn’t yet been paid.

The offer: Defendant acknowledged that he owed the money and felt bad about the whole situation. He offered 40% more than the plaintiff was asking for. In return, defendant wanted a release of liability and 60 days to pay.

The counteroffer: Plaintiff berated the defendant. The plaintiff’s frustration over the lack of communication boiled over. Plaintiff accused the defendant of being irresponsible and unwilling to make any sacrifices to make good on obligations.

As the mediator, I redirected and refocused the discussion. I made it clear to the defendant that the plaintiff was frustrated over the lack of communication over a long period of time, while reality checking the plaintiff to show her that this line of “discussion” was going nowhere fast.

It was for naught. The damage had already been done, and anyways, the plaintiff was unwilling to let go of the past and focus on the 40% increase she had gained for herself.

The result: Defendant shut down, went into fight-or-flight mode. It was a visible change in demeanor, from open and willing to insulted and disrespected.

That’s how an easy settlement gave me The Slip. But with every experience, I’m learning and growing as a professional. I can’t say the same for my wayward disputants.

Fellow mediators and conflict management professionals: what could I have done differently?

Disputants, do you see how focusing on past behavior may run contrary to your own interests?

What are those pain points?

Challenge: Can you be an innovative leader by having just one conversation with an employee this week to try and identify an internal pain point?

If you’re an innovative leader in your organization, are you gathering data from your employees?

The challenge of being an innovator is that you can’t see or hear about a pain point without wanting to do something about it.

Too often, organizations aren’t proactive in identifying their own internal pain points. WDR is currently conducting a survey to find out just what those pain points might be.

It’s too soon to tell, but so far, the data shows that leaders, managers, HR professionals, and others are reporting that workplace conflict tends to stem from the failure of communication- specifically, top-down communication about the goals and direction of the organization.
Call to action:

Will you acknowledge conflict in your organization? Will you identify it, and TAKE ACTION to do something about it?

Where to start? 

Can you just talk to one employee this week? Can you have just one candid conversation about the workplace to try and identify an internal pain point?

Things Mediators Think About

Recently two parties were arguing over a small amount of money.

Spoiler alert- it didn’t settle. Despite best efforts, they just kept circling back to past behaviors and perceived wrongs.

See, each was convinced the other was out to get one over. Yet neither saw themselves in that light. It’s a paradox: when someone else is wrong he’s evil, but when I’m wrong it’s a mistake, a bad day, a headache, or any other number of excuses.

So we absolve ourselves, condemn the other guy, and bear the burden, carrying the nagging resentment with us ad infinitum.

Can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, that resentment is a poison, as sure to kill my spirit as anything. So when I’m resolving a conflict, I need a master’s toolbox and a student’s willingness to try them all.

Gordon Ramsay: The Original Conflict Manager?

Open 3Finn Hackshaw

Gordon Ramsay is a world-renowned chef with the successful television show, Kitchen Nightmares. But did you know (much like a hipster) Ramsay was a conflict manager before it was cool?

To sum it up unartfully, in Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay travels to struggling restaurants and helps the owners and staff turn things around. Maybe it just makes for good television, but it seems like every episode involves some drama surrounding family relationships, abrasive leadership, or insubordinate employees.

Sure, the show is entertaining, but if we look past the surface entertainment, Ramsay’s conflict assistance can be categorized one of two ways: performance or conduct based. Ramsay helps the restaurateurs change the menu, expedite the food, manage the restaurant image, and so on. Ramsay has also been known to provide the business with a consulting chef to train the old kitchen team.

For fans of the show, think about how Ramsay handles situations with intense conflict. If you haven’t seen the show, I’ll clue you in. Ramsay frequently uses a combination of group facilitation and one-on-one “coachings” to brainstorm new ideas, resolve restaurant problems, and bring issues to light to restore effective communication.

When it comes to abrasive employees, Ramsay encourages the restaurant leader to hold the employee accountable to conduct standards. In one episode, Ramsay refers a drug-addicted employee to support group meetings and treatment. When the owner is unwilling or unmotivated to change, Ramsay grounds him or her with a tough reality check. He inspires owners and staff with vision of how implementing changes will help achieve business, quality, and life goals. You name it, Ramsay seems to have a strategy to confront it.

Think of your most recent workplace conflict. Whatever it is, I can almost guarantee that it, or one very similar to it, has been captured on an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. I wonder how Ramsay would handle your situation?

Granted, I don’t think most conflict management professionals advocate the level of cussing or yelling that Ramsay employs. But hey, he’s a chef and an entertainer. Being the OG of conflict management professionals is secondary.

Much like Gordon Ramsay, I enjoy customizing conflict management strategies. Unfortunately (and my wife can confirm this), that’s where the similarities end! So no five-star meals in our house. But seriously, I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. Although conflict can be categorized and the solutions can be modeled off one another, different strategies must be tailored to fit your individual needs.

Check back in later because I’ll be sharing my step-by-step method to customize your very own workplace conflict management strategies. Continue checking in for other articles and free stuff. My website goes live very soon, so stay tuned for updates there, as well.

Please comment or message me to share thoughts and experiences. My goal is bring value to my readers and clients by bringing ONLY the most innovative business professionals together, so we can build strategies to . . .

  • eliminate workplace conflict,
  • reduce the negative dollars-and-cents costs of disputes, and
  • rebuild culture, leadership, and productivity.

Now, go check out Kitchen Nightmares, and don’t forget to watch for the conflict management strategy of the day!

4 Steps to Improve Your Training Program

A3 training

Let me know if this sounds familiar. Your organization has invested time, energy, and sweat equity in a new hire who consistently fails to perform. The trainee continually blunders in situations that seem simple, that directly relate to prior training. When asked, the trainee rattles off a proper “shoulda.” But there’s a disconnect between what the trainee shoulda’ done and what was actually done.

The fact of the matter is the new employee is not responding to training and may need to be let go if he or she can’t turn it around. What can your organization do to help them? Or is there anything that could have prevented it coming to this point in the first place?

As with a medical diagnosis, pain can be managed with a pill. But unless the underlying condition is treated, the problem remains. In this context, there could be many reasons for failure to perform: incompetence, laziness, lack of motivation, poor time management, or any number of other issues. So you focus on accountability. The organization has given the trainee much time and attention already. If the trainee still can’t make the grade, then it’s time to part ways.

Defining the Problem

Not so fast. Is it possible that the trainee’s struggle is a litmus test for another condition? Think about whether your organization’s training program and culture are conducive to training. If either of the two following things are part of the deal, then your environment might not be the most supportive. There are of course, other culture and training issues to which my suggestions apply, but for this post, I’m focused on multitasking and distractions.


No one should be “multitasking” at all, especially not the inexperienced rookie. Studies show that multitaskers generally (1) are underproductive and inefficient and (2) OVERestimate the amount of time it takes to complete tasks. Thus, the multitasker takes much longer to screw up more than one thing at a time.


Did you know people spend about a quarter of their work day either getting distracted or recovering from distractions? Distraction affects everyone, but consider the rookie employee… phone ringing off the hook, emails piling up, coworkers dropping by, the ever-present lure of Twitter and Snapchat for a quick social media fix. I’m sure everyone right now is thinking of at least one distraction that didn’t make the list!

The Fix

There’s an oft-repeated adage… something about walking a mile in another’s shoes. Well, put on the rookie’s shoes, and go for a spin. How can new hires meet standards when being bogged down with outdated and disproven productivity systems? Following these steps could ultimately reduce turnover and improve productivity.

(1) Train to priority! When developing a training program, be clear about the most important function for that job. Focus on training first to that #1 function. This could look different depending on the organization’s purpose and priority. For a sales position, this could be extensive training and evaluation in the company’s lead generation system. Following this model, the front-desk clerk might be trained foremost in creating positive customer interactions.

(2) Next, support the trainee in that role. Give the employee time to develop the necessary skills in that focused area. Unfortunately, your new hire doesn’t have a sound-proof office. But I guarantee a 15-minute meeting with the training team would yield something you can do to minimize or at least reduce distractions.

(3) Now, hold the new hire accountable for what they’ve been trained on: the most important job function. After all, even if they do every secondary task exceedingly well, would you keep them on if they were awful at the most important thing? Probably not. Have standards in place. Know what “passing” realistically looks like ahead of time. Make your expectations and criteria clear.

(4) Rinse and repeat this cycle with the next training priority. However, won’t training take forever to complete if you follow this model? Consider this: functions within the same job are often related. For example, if you train a customer service representative in positive customer interactions, won’t that make their secondary sales role easier? Doesn’t one flow naturally into the other? This is the “halo effect,” where success in one area naturally leads to success in others.

For argument’s sake, let’s say some functions are immune from the halo effect and that confidence has limited effect on performance. The beauty is these other functions are all still secondary and thus less important. It isn’t critical that the new hire achieve a mastery level in everything to succeed.

So here’s the take away

The most time and attention should be spent training and evaluating the most important thing first, so the new hire achieves the highest competence as quickly as possible. Then train the other one or two critical functions to as high a level as you can. Last and definitely least, train the remaining functions only to a minimally acceptable level. As the new hire progresses from rookie to novice and beyond, he or she will continue to improve the secondary skills but will be ahead of the game in terms of their most important function.

Comment or message me with your questions. They could becomes my next article topic!

4 Morale-Killing Behaviors that are Alive and Well


I’ve been a student in one classroom or another for more years than I care to count and taken various professional development trainings throughout my career. I’ve worked in the private sector and the public sector. My experience is hardly unusual, so anyone with some schooling under his or her belt and a few years in the workforce has dealt with a variety of abrasive workplace behaviors. These behaviors can take a toll on organizations in a variety of ways. One such cost is reduced productivity. These are the top four productivity killing behaviors in my book.

4. The Multi-Tasking Taskmaster

I tried texting and having a conversation with my wife the other day. I got halfway through my text and realized I hadn’t the slightest idea what my wife was saying. Similarly, while checking Facebook and watching my one-year-old, I lost the article I was trying to read upon glancing up to my daughter dumping a whole can of Diet Coke out on the carpet. You might see some similar situations in sitcoms or standup. Really, it’s one of those funny-because-its-true things, isn’t it?

Can we just agree already that multitasking is a great way to screw up more than one thing at a time? If you don’t believe me, read The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and let me know your stance on multitasking. The problem is this: The leader, likely concerned about his own image, is concerned that it won’t appear that enough is getting done. Fearing reprimand, the exacting taskmaster engages in a multitasking marathon, forcing everyone to get more done. So instead of the important things getting done right, morale and productivity take a back seat to mediocrity and mistakes.

3. Managerial Complex

This manager doesn’t know the first thing about a pat on the back or an “atta boy.” Nope. In order to validate his worth, this manager literally must provide negative feedback, regardless of how good a job is done. Well knock it off!

There’s nothing like a Negative Nancy to make people not want to do anything. After all, who wants to step up when someone is always ready with a put down? There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. But when it’s all critic and no construction, your people won’t produce for you. (Sidenote: Should this come as a surprise to the negative manager? According to some friends of mine, these bosses may not even realize the negative impact they’re having!)

2. Micro Manager

If this leader wants something done right, then he has to do it himself. Except he doesn’t do it himself. He just breathes down employees’ necks while they do it. Managing people is notoriously difficult. But holding people accountable for their performance is easier. Instead, what if there was a system in place that set performance standards. Thus, the manager doesn’t have to oversee each person doing each task and make it his way or the highway. The manager can simply refer to preset performance standards with a system of benchmarks. If there’s some quirks to one employee’s way of doing it versus another, that’s ok, as long as they’re hitting benchmarks and following the system.

1. Ever Changing Expectations

This is what I’ve termed the King of morale-killing behaviors. If you want to isolate your team members, kill morale, and drastically reduce satisfaction, then look no further.

What does this look like, in reality? Once, I had a teacher lay out how an assignment was supposed to be done. Drafts and conferences with the teacher revealed all positive feedback. Then, without warning, a lower grade on the assignment. What sort of message does that send, and who in their right mind would be motivated to perform after that?

Have you ever received feedback on a performance review, implemented the suggestions, then still get a poor review the following period? Do you remember thinking, “What’s the point?”

What behaviors have you seen that kill morale?

Brandon Grysko’s background includes labor negotiation, training, legal studies, and law enforcement. Contact Brandon with questions or for help developing dispute resolution strategies at (734)-956-0113 or


Reducing the Cost of Conflict: Workplace Dispute Resolution

Work-related disputes devour a business’s time, money, and productivity. But facilitative dispute mediation is a cost-effective way of managing—and even completely avoiding—the cost of workplace disputes. Facilitative mediation is a fancy name for the process of a third party sitting down with disputants and assisting them in communicating solutions to their own conflict. The process is gaining traction with the legal community; many judges even order parties to mediation before trial. But can workplace dispute resolution (WDR) be used pre lawsuit, and if so, why bother?

1.     Workplace Disputes Create a Plethora of Costs

Some workplace-conflict costs can be traced. Employees spend about 2.8 hours per week (about 7% of a 40-hour work week) dealing with conflict. It’s estimated that managers and supervisors’ daily duties are 30% conflict related. All those hours of company time add up. Fifty percent of employees cite workplace conflict as a motivating factor in their departure. This results in costs to recruit, hire, train, and retain the replacement!

Everyone is familiar with lawsuits, another traceable cost of conflict. According to one study, U.S. businesses have about a 12% chance of an employee filing EEOC charges. About 20% of charges result in costs to defend and settle, about $125,000 on average. Employment practice liability insurance likely costs over $2,000 per year in premiums with an average deductible of $35,000. Anyone out there self-insured? Guess who’s picking up the additional $90,000 to defend and settle the case?

If the traceable costs aren’t enough of a concern, there are also disguised costs of workplace conflict. For example, how can an employer trace the decreased motivation and productivity resulting from conflict? Twenty-five percent of employees in one survey said that workplace conflict led to absence from work. About 10% of employees in the same survey said that workplace conflict was a direct cause of project failure. Think of all the ailments this can lead to within an organization: poor customer service, decreased productivity, increased absence from work, and more!

Last but not least, it’s time to air the legal community’s worst-kept secret: plaintiffs don’t always care about the law; sometimes, they just want to set the record straight! Sure, for many it’s a financial decision. But let’s not discount the power of emotion in decision making. According to a case -evaluation survey reported in the Journal of Dispute Resolution by Peter Toll Hoffman, decisions to proceed to trial, rather than settle, were influenced by a desire to be vindicated, be declared the winner, to punish the other party, and because of feelings of anger towards the other party. As Hoffman importantly notes, “humans are not merely economic machines, motivated solely by reasons of profit and loss.”

2.     The Solution: Mediate the Risk Away

As the losses pile up to the not-so-subtle “tick tock” of the clock, know that WDR programs can mitigate or avoid some of these losses. The U.S. Department of Labor Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations, in fact, recommends WDR. According to the commission, “Effective procedures for communication and workplace problem solving help to build the trust needed to solve problems before they escalate into complaints.” Therefore, by allowing employees to “participat[e] in creating and running the dispute resolution mechanism,” employers can mitigate workplace conflict and address problems before they escalate into costly employee absence, apathy, conflict, and lawsuits.

Law suits are the most noticeable risk exposure related to workplace disputes. HR-focused website ERE Media featured an article by employment attorney Branigan Robertson, who noted five reasons why employees sue their employers. Two reasons were because employees felt they were “treated like garbage” or “their manager was allowed to behave badly.” The article actually suggests treating employees with respect will drastically reduce the chances of being sued.

But let’s take that one step further. Give disgruntled employees a forum to discuss a workplace dispute. Let them have a hand in crafting a solution that falls within HR policies. Now there’s ownership. Call it a win-win. Employees feel their voices are heard. They feel respected. Hopefully, those 2.8 hours per week can migrate to the profit column along with some of the other costs, both traceable and hidden.

Take it from Brown and Root, who implemented workplace dispute resolution procedures, including mediation. In the first year they implemented the program, 500 employees availed themselves of the benefit. Seventy-five percent of the cases were resolved within four weeks. Any idea how long the average lawsuit takes? Two years? Three? (Fortune 500 executives spend roughly 20% of their time in some type of litigation activity.) Finally, the cost of Brown and Root’s program was “substantially less than what one large court case would cost.”

3.     Try the Cost-Effective, Risk-Avoidance Solution

What’s the best way to manage risk? Avoid it entirely, of course. No amount of mediation or workplace dispute resolution can guarantee complete avoidance. But WDR is a critical way to address the respect issue, which really boils down to the human elements of decision making, poor performance, call-ins, resignations, complaints, and lawsuits.

In conclusion, workplace dispute resolution should be used to avoid risk, reduce stress, and make the workplace an overall better and more productive environment.

I originally published this article on LinkedIn. Check it out here!