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Putting Employment Negotiation in Check

Q: What lasted 113 days, cost countless millions, delivered a giant purple bruise to the reputation of a massive industry and left a legacy of labour relations lessons in its wake?

A: The NHL lockout (finished at last, to the delirious delight of legion hockey fans).

But what could this exercise in greed, petty self-indulgence and enduring petulance ever have to teach folks knocking up against employment issues in less glamorous professional pursuits? Plenty, as it turns out.

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An off-ice sampling, then, for employers and employees alike looking to avoid taking a similarly bone-crushing hit:

•  Keep feelings in check. The lockout lasted as long as it did largely because of all the emotions in play. Given that every last labour negotiation includes the in-opposition participation of at least two humans, and given that humans are inherently sentient beings, it stands to reason that emotions are going to slop all over the proceedings at some point. But you mustn’t let them call the shots. Reason must always trump passion here.

Keep talking. The hockey example might have included a whack of precious and insanely drawn-out flights to and from the bargaining table — but at least it did. When the parties in an HR arbitration flat-out refuse to keep the conversation going, all is lost. The longer you can keep both sides talking, the more likely you are to find a solution.

Seek help. It wasn’t until the 72nd day of the lockout that the league and its players association agreed to call in the services of a mediator (and it took a further 41 days for said mediator to score an in-principle agreement). Canadian labour negotiations typically invite mediation onto the ice much earlier in the game (in fact, mediation or conciliation is a mandatory qualification before a lockout or strike is considered legal), and with good reason. Mediators enjoy a successful record of expedient problem-solving and bridge-building.

Remember: whether it’s hockey, hotels or heavy equipment, it’s always human relations. And the name of the game, regardless, is to achieve the best deal with the least damage to your side.

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