Find Your Sacred During Times of Tension and Conflict Communication

Find Your Sacred During Times of Tension and Conflict Communication

Conflict Communication

Find your sacred during times of conflict and tension: As I sit across the bargaining table from a Union counterpart, he slams his fists against the table, calls me names not worth repeating and has choice words for the employer I represent. It is worth mentioning; the employer I represent is reasonable and fair. Fortunately, this is not an everyday experience. Most of us negotiators can have these difficult conversations while respecting the party opposite and the process. Whether out of shock or good judgment, our team does not react.  I suggest a caucus “to gather our thoughts,” but it is to create space to calm things down.

During our caucus, the first order of business would be convincing our team that the outburst required no direct response.

Sure, there are times to respond with passion and vigour, but that wasn’t one of them.

I would remind our team that perceived process wins and “I sure showed them moments” in front of committees did not amount to a win on the actual negotiation scorecard.

While strolling down the hallway to our caucus room, I inhaled deeply, muttered, “It’s not about me,” under my breath and reflected on what holds us together in these moments.

What keeps us from responding in kind, escalating the situation and causing conlfict communication breakdown and impasse?

For me, and it works regardless of whether others reciprocate the sentiment, I hold dear and sacred the negotiating table, the negotiation process, the parties involved, and the agreement reached. Holding on to this meaningfulness keeps me grounded and helps me not lose perspective during tension and hostility, independent of what happens during the exchange.

This is hardly a unique approach, but how did this approach become ingrained within me?

I was often troubled and confused about my place and direction in life throughout my teens and early twenties, exacerbated by several family calamities. Fortunately, at the time, I found a healthy distraction in the sport of wrestling. It meant a lot to me to become competent at the sport. I prepared obsessively and competed often.

What could Wrestling, or other Competitive Sports have to do with Conflict Communication?

Wrestling was somewhat nerve-racking for many in the sport, even the well-adjusted. A match is a one-on-one competition. Defeats were punctuated and often taken as personal failures unless they were in matches close on points. Due to my maladjustments, I was driven more by fear of losing than the joy of participation and chance of success, seemingly to a greater extent than most.

I worried too much and made the mistake of placing too much of my identity and self-worth on the line.

At tournaments, our team members would wear our wrestling singlets underneath our sweats and t-shirts during warm-ups. We would drop our shoulder straps and let them hang down outside our sweats during warm-ups before the match. In so doing, we showcased our slightly rebellious nature and style (if there was such a thing among us) while it identified us as wrestlers when walking the gym floor.

There was a rule; however, you never stepped onto the mat with your straps down when arriving for your match. Doing so would be a sign of disrespect for the sport, to your opponent, and the match itself.

I enjoyed the rule. It was one of those things we came to know and made us feel like we were in on a secret code of sorts. My self-centred fear would block access to the more fulsome meaning behind the rule at the time. After accumulating much greyer hair and distance from the sport, a deeper appreciation would surface years later.

A wrestling match is an intense situation that reveals our humanness, whether virtues or vices, courage or fear, or a mix of all above. It is a test or moment of truth, if you will, on whether you trained hard enough, had the physical and mental fitness, ate properly, and had the talent to succeed. It was a test of character, courage and integrity.

In the middle of all this intensity and human frailties and strengths, the mat was sacred.

We worked out on the mat, warmed up, stretched, cooled down, meditated, and even disinfected and cleaned the mat. We cared for and honoured the mat. The mat was the truthteller during the competition amidst a collision of human fortitude, weakness, and tension. Having the reverence to adopt rules that made the mat sacred was enough to remove us, ever so slightly from our self-centred fear,  to engage in the match on an honourable footing grounded in virtue with our fears muted.

For those transformations to happen, the rule/ritual needs to be in place, and we need to be present to the moment enough to honour the ritual and find meaning in it.

During our caucus, I see energy return to the faces of our team. They understand that the over-the-top outburst we witnessed did nothing to change our bargaining position. They understand that a non-reaction can, in fact, be more potent than a reaction in conflict communication. We walk back down the hall to the negotiation room. I take a few deep breaths during our stroll.

We enter the room and move to our seats. My eyes scan the surface of the table, with binders and papers strewn about, people leaning in, leaning back, arms open, arms crossed, elbows on the table elbows off the table, some eye contact, some eyes down, some eyes averting direct view, some nods and some shrugs. I exhale as my hands touch the surface before me and feel its texture. I gauge the table’s strength while seated. I notice the soles of my feet against the floor and feel my connection to the ground supporting me. I press my shoes to the floor, twist ever so slightly and feel the resulting stored energy. This is a precious moment. The negotiation table, process, and the agreement that we will eventually achieve; bind us to the truth and integrity that connect us. I remind myself that it is not about me. It is not about one person’s behaviour. With self-centred fear set aside, we get down to honouring the business at hand again. In this state, we are prepared to engage in conflict communication skillfully. 

Whatever we do, find the meaning, find the sacred, and learn to trust it.

That is one example of how some of us hold it together during conflict communication, tension, escalation, hostility and challenge.

Please visit our homepage for more information about our labour relations and human resources firm with offices in Edmonton, Alberta and Prince George and Victoria, British Columbia.

Respectfully submitted,

Sam Kemble

Chief Operating Officer

With People Inc.


Lateral Violence: When the Oppressed become the Oppressors

Lateral Violence: When the Oppressed become the Oppressors

When the oppressed become the oppressors.

Lateral violence is a form of bullying engaged in by those oppressed and lacking power. 

In a state of anger, fear and at times panic, feeling unable to confront the system that dominates them, they lash out and attack peers and those closest to them, often those also oppressed. 

It is a function of power or lack thereof, and individuals (often targets themselves), without recourse, lash out at whom they can. Unfortunately, the systemic lack of recourse contributes to the release of energy in an unproductive, at times harmful form. It involves a release of energy built up from toxic or traumatic experiences.

Lateral violence is a sad and retraumatizing phenomenon.

Root causes of this tendency include:

  1. colonization,
  2. oppression,
  3. intergenerational trauma,
  4. powerlessness and
  5. the ongoing experience of racism and discrimination.

Resolving this requires confronting it by outing it, naming the damage it causes and acknowledging whom it damages.

Create space for discussions on the topic in general. Engage peers to gain understanding and commit to eradicating the behaviour from the workplace.

Bullying & lateral violence – Creative Spirits


  1. Out it.
  2. Confront It.
  3. Discuss its Causes.

Gain Freedom from It.


Take the #20percentchallenge

To learn more about our labour relations, human resources and recruitment firm, visit our homepage.

Why Safety Rules Must Be and Be Perceived as Reasonable

Safety Rules: Like many controls on safety-sensitive worksites, our preferred line of defence is to eliminate or completely control hazards through design and engineering. Administrative controls must mitigate residual threats that companies cannot, for lack of a better phrase, engineer out of the work process. Managerial measures include controls levered by training, policy and procedures and personal protective equipment requirements. Together they are designed to motivate or encourage employee behaviour to eliminate further, mitigate or control residual safety risk.

We rely on safety rules and rule compliance for many reasons, including to protect employees’ safety. To set and administer rules effectively, we pay heed and study the realm of human behaviour.

Many industrial safety-sensitive sites operate on a reasonably authoritative chain of command structure to organize and execute work. However, due to the often large geographic footprint of industrial worksites, usually in dynamic, open environments exposed to changing factors, companies must rely heavily on autonomous rule compliance, which means that individuals follow the rules when not in the line of sight of one who directly supervises them. Thus, safety performance relies on the cultural norms and buy-in of teams working to keep each other safe. Individual compliance and peer enforcement rely on a hearts and minds approach or buy-in into the rule. This requires leaders to explain and inspire, rather than solely direct and instruct safety leadership when setting and administering controls. Therefore, we need to be willing to get into the questions. Why is a rule essential? What prompted management to install the expectation? Why is it in my interest and my coworkers’ interest to follow these rules? And, what makes this rule reasonable? These are the types of questions that need to be embraced and explored with crews to achieve a hearts and minds buy-in. If our team does not understand why a rule is made or does not believe it is reasonable, things can go wrong.

To illustrate, I’m going to reflect on one of my favourite courses at university. It was lead by a quirky history professor who studied a phenomenon called jury nullification in early English common law. He referenced heavily Thomas Andrew Green’s book, Verdict According to Conscience. During this time, England defined murder by statute. Hence, the courts were not authorized to find anything inconsistent with the statute’s definition of murder. The crime of murder was described as a death where a human had contributed to that death. If a court found that someone had committed murder, the automatic consequence was capital punishment. It was a capital offence, and within this construct, there was only one defence, which was self-defence. Self-defence was also very rigidly defined. The individual relying on self-defence had to be smaller than the would-be attacker, had to be wielding a smaller weapon, or the individual that was fallen had to have been wielding a more deadly weapon than the individual relying on the self-defence. A person depending on the defence also needed to be unable to escape the would-be attacker. All three of these things need to be in place for a jury to find a person not guilty by self-defence.

My professor and historian Thomas Andrew Green was appropriately suspicious of how this may have played out in real-life in jury trials. They compared jury trials’ findings of fact during that timeframe against the facts issued by coroners reports in the same cases.

They found discrepancies between the coroner reports and jury findings of fact. Case in point, one coroner report found that the husband walked into his home where he found his wife with another man. A struggle ensues. The husband used a knife to stab the man. The man dies. A jury in the same case found the following. The husband encounters a man outside of his home. The jury found the man had an axe (the axe, appearing out of nowhere), and the husband, while trapped against the edge of a cliff (which also appeared out of nowhere), was unable to escape. The jury concluded the husband used the knife to defend himself against the man wielding an axe.

In that case, the jury didn’t find that the rule was reasonable. The jury did not find the consequence suitable. Hence, rather than issue an unjust ruling leading to an unjust consequence, the jury searched for and found the facts required that would enable them to rule the individual not guilty by self-defence. So essentially, the jury nullified the unreasonable rule. Thomas Andrew Green refers to this as jury nullification.

The same can happen to us if our workers do not believe that our safety rules are reasonable or reasonably administered. Leaders must continue to accept questions regarding why we do the things we do. Invest in the effort to explain and inspire because failing to do so may result in our safety rules being nullified out in the field when we’re not looking.


A prime example of this points to the Alberta Construction Industry’s experience in administering the COAA’s Canadian Model for Providing a Safe Workplace: Alcohol and Drug Guidelines and Work Rule. Earlier versions of the model relied upon almost exclusively peer and front line supervisory administration of the rule in two basic scenarios: 1) a relatively prescriptive post-incident testing rule, and 2) a more subjective “reasonable cause” testing rule. Often, owners and safety representatives found a 20-25% non-negative result from post-incident testing (a lagging indicator as an incident or near miss would already have occurred). One in five or one in four safety incidents occurred concurrent to the presence of alcohol and drug levels higher than that allowed under the safety-based work rule. The forgoing coincided with a low-level of the frequency of peer or supervisor-initiated reasonable cause tests (a control arguably more preventative than the post-incident testing).

Hence the discretionary aspects of the safety rule were nullified.

Upon further explanation, peer and front-line supervisors were reluctant to administer the rule for three key reasons: 1) discomfort confronting one on their substance use, especially with the stigma attached to alcohol and drug use and abuse, 2) they did not feel the testing regime was fair in respect to the marijuana panel, which measured levels associated with use on personal time away from work, and 3) they did not believe the consequences associated with a positive test were fair for those who recreationally used marijuana. As a result, many employers who installed the Canadian Model on their worksites had a significant portion of their work rule nullified by its workforce, drastically reducing the safety efficacy of the practice, which was its primary purpose in the first place.

There are answers to the concerns of peer enforcers and front-line supervisors. However, in that case, leaders were not equipped to demonstrate the rule’s reasonableness or appropriateness. The rest was history. Supervisors and peers’ reluctance to administer the reasonable cause portion of the Canadian Model prompted owners to impose site access testing to fill the void in preventative controls regarding their Alcohol and Drug Administrative controls.

2020 Initiative and Industrial Relations List for With People Inc.

Inventory of service activities delivered to clients in 2020, a report by Sam Kemble

A Word from the Executive Operations Officer 

We diversified our client base and service offerings during the year, added capacity, strengthened our balance sheet, and improved our processes. We supported organizations to meet extraordinary and complex challenges through various service offerings.

We are inspired by our client’s character, understanding and compassion towards their employees, union partners, and stakeholders, all during a year that could strain any relationship. We are grateful to continue serving industries and enterprises in Canada.

We wish all well as we approach the New Year.

Respectfully submitted,

Sam Kemble

Executive Operating Officer

Industrial Relations – Negotiations

This year in industrial relations, we bargained collectively with various Building Trade unions in Saskatchewan, CUPE in Edmonton, Unifor in Windsor, and UFCW in Edmonton. Also, we engaged in First Nation Mutual Benefits Agreement Negotiations West of Edmonton.

Industrial Relations

We continue to deepen our service and experience in general industrial relations through grievance administration, progressive discipline support, collective agreement interpretation, group lay-off and bumping-process support, coal-to-gas transition supports, recall list administration, temporary layoff supports, arbitration case management, contracting out, severance liability included in a temporary layoff context, right to refuse unsafe work in a COVID-19 context, pension plan and health benefits and insurance administration, and common employer and successor employer analysis.

Policy Development

We engaged in robust alcohol and drug policy development and costing models, participated in public policy creation and review through the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, and developed several policies and practice documents in employment administration.


Ongoing training and workshops were developed and delivered, covering performance management, labour and employee relations, industrial relations, anti-harassment, bullying and violence. Work continues to migrate these modules to an online delivery format for broad and safe accessibility.



Significant time has been invested in enhancing our craft recruitment process, including modules for equity hiring and onboarding. We supported clients to develop a 48-hour rule hiring process to coincide with hiring hall scenarios. Cost models have been developed and simulated for craft sourcing, recruitment and onboarding for numerous multi-year projects. Our firm provided direct recruitment support for a plant south of Edmonton, a shutdown near Regina, road construction in Calgary, a pipeline in BC, a plant west of Edmonton, an institutional project in Terrace, recruitment for project administration in Northwest BC, a manufacturing facility south of Edmonton, several residential projects in the Greater Vancouver area, an infrastructure project in Lloydminster, and a roadbuilding project in the Greater Vancouver area.

We have adopted a positive bias into our recruitment process that prefers Indigenous, BIPOC and women candidates.


2020 brought the need to support clients with Covid-19 response measures, including service for essential service employees, implementing masking, hygiene, and physical distancing policies while restructuring work arrangements through staggering shifts and rotating site presence protocols. Various sick and other leave provisions required interpretation within a pandemic context. We also ensured rights and obligations to refuse unsafe work were adequately adhered to within a COVID-19 context. The pandemic also brought unique factors requiring a considered review of human rights and employment statute-protected accommodations, including leave and work accommodations. Many employers also found it necessary to navigate both the in and the out-of-work-from-home transitions.

We are grateful for the opportunity to be of service during such challenging and dynamic times. 

Industrial Relations – Operations / Execution

We engaged in front-end engineering and design (FEED) support for significant capital projects’ workforce delivery and the management component. We increased our forecasting and costing analysis capacity and conducted field execution productivity studies, developed project costing studies, and conducted labour posture comparison studies for construction and maintenance. We developed and supported wall-to-wall craft recruitment models. 

Justice and Social

We provided Jordan’s principal policy, advice, and advocacy within our social justice portfolio. We developed Treaty-based education agreements and policies.

Together with expert volunteers, we are about to release an employer mental health and wellness practice document.

We commenced service to the Board of the Colbourne Institute for Inclusive Leadership.

As a firm, we are taking an aggressive approach to positive bias recruiting to ameliorate disadvantaged and historically disadvantaged groups’ inequities.


With People Inc. Internal Capacity

In 2020, the firm increased recruitment, project controls, human resources and data science capacity.

We made investments in achieving a CPHR Certification, investigative report writing training, first aid training, and Principles of Health and Safety Management.

We afforded access to professional coaching to staff to increase career development and the strength of our team.

We created an operational contingency reserve for our operations to de-risk the potential for Covid-19 to impact our staffing levels. We also adopted an accounting policy to carry a fully funded severance liability on our balance sheet.

Throughout 2020 we continue to develop apps for release in 2021, including a force ranking app – 90% complete, a witness credibility app – 70% complete, a quantum of discipline review app – 70% complete. Also, we rebuilt our workforce applicant tracking and onboarding system – 70% complete.

In the ongoing interest of advancing awareness and education in human resources and employee and industrial relations, we maintained our educational Blog, Podcast, and Video Channel (hosted on YouTube).

Visit our homepage for more information about our human resources and industrial relations firm with offices in Edmonton, Alberta, Prince George and Victoria, British Columbia.

Systemic Racism and the Cave Analogy

Today we discuss Plato’s cave analogy and systemic racism in Canada. Like many, we in our firm accept that systemic racism exists throughout Canada and is interwoven into our institutions.

This statement comes neither from a place of judgement nor is it presented to suggest castigation of those subject to the system’s influence within which we all reside.

 Accepting that many forms of racism are prevalent throughout our society is simply an appreciation of the state of things, without judgment – and from there comes, a choice and perhaps, hopefully – a commitment.

 We write this within weeks of May 25, 2020. During this time, much has been in the news which illuminates the pervasiveness of racism in many forms in our institutions, including within our police forces. The police are no worse or better than most of Canada’s institutions.

Recent events reinforce that responsibility to get it right increases exponentially for those who exercise authority, and at times, force over others.

 And as Ibram X Kendi emphasizes in his 2019 book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” getting it right must be viewed, relatively, from where we are at. So, given where we are today, getting it right starts with acknowledging there is a problem. Sadly, for some (but not all) senior leadership positions within police force administration and police member associations, acknowledging that there is a  problem is more than they are willing to offer at the moment. Rather, some choose to deny it with vigour.

 We intend to explore this denial and anchor our discussion; we will reference Plato’s Cave Analogy in his classic, “Republic.”

In the Cave Analogy, Plato considers three people bound in a seated position in a cave with their heads affixed staring at a wall, for their entire life. Light enters from behind them from the mouth of the cave. From time to time, animals cross the mouth of the cave and cast shadows onto the wall they are facing. The three never knew differently, so what they were witnessing on the cave wall, was to them, an accurate reflection of life and reality.

Eventually, the bindings of one of the three came loose. With muscles that had yet been used, the escapee slowly struggled and eventually made their way to the cave entrance.

Upon reaching the mouth of the cave, the escapee experienced a great deal of pain. Eyes that knew only darkness and shadow were exposed to the sun’s bright light for the first time. Soon, the eyes adjusted, and the escapee witnessed the wondrous beauty, fullness and truth of the world.

After exploring, the escapee returned to the cave, wishing to share the freedom and revelation with the escapee’s former cave mates.

The escapee removed the bindings of the cave mates, and they struggled but moved towards the mouth of the cave. As they approached the mouth of the cave, sunlight struck their eyes, causing immense pain. Immediately, they asked why the escapee would cause them such pain and resented the escapee for it.

Ultimately, the pain of exposure to the light and the pain of accepting the truth was too great for the cave mates. Angrily, they hone in on the escapee, whom they stoned to death for causing them such pain, following which, they returned to their seats in the cave to carry on staring at the shadows on the wall.

Racism, including systemic racism, exists in Canada. Despite this, people continue to choose to deny that fact. We should not be surprised. As the cave analogy shows, holding contempt for information that challenges previously held beliefs is human nature. Such denial is neither right nor necessarily permanent.


And what of the visceral, conditioned emotional responses and attacks that come with such denials? Many in pain seek to destroy. They wish to focus their anger towards someone or something, to stop the exchange of information, and then, they wish to carry on living in their cave- in their distorted reality. They choose to deny the existence of systemic racism.

To be racist, that being, “One who is supporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.” Or, to be antiracist, that being, “One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their action or expressing an antiracist idea.” Objectively, it is impossible to reduce racism without acknowledging that systemic racism exists.

[Ibram X Kendi, 2019]

You’ll note that neither choice represents a static position, both choices describe one engaged in action…being static is not an option.

When looked at this way, this is a journey to embark upon and has nothing to do with permanent condemnations. So given recent events, we choose to, in a non-judgemental way in terms of where we are at today, actively seek new information to permit our eyes to adjust, for the alternative is to stay blind and hurt.

Thank you for your time. Subscribe for future updates.

Short Term Service Offerings

Short Term Service Offerings

Current environment  Heavy layoffs commenced in 2015 and more are expected in 2017. Wage freezes and wage rollbacks remain a water cooler topic. Capital spending reviews and cuts are in the headlines.  There are many signals that 2017 will continue to be about managing costs and running current operations as lean as possible.   But there is still major project work and maintenance for existing operations underway, and bids to submit to secure future work.  In 2017 companies are properly wary about adding staff or making long-term spending. Essential services and activities will go on but with a sharp eye on costs. There is less organizational slack in most organization charts which may increase the need for temporary or ad hoc assistance for either technical expertise or to have access to increased variable capacity.   

Services you may need:  You may need the plan to source labour and scale up rapidly for maintenance purposes or due to changes in schedule.  And you will need to ensure costs to get workers to the site are tightly controlled. Flying tradespeople across the country every shift may be justifiable in a tight labour market but makes little sense when local or regional options exist.

Labour relations or employee investigations may arise that require staff dedication of time or expertise that no longer exists within your organization.  These are examples of areas of short-term services where Workforce Delivery can help. 

Our knowledge and experience can allow us to build a labour supply strategy that takes the current market into account. We can provide plans and execute them as needed.  

Another area of concern in active projects and worksites is managing spikes in labour relations activity such as misconduct, substance abuse or increase in complaints.  Tension and animosity among workers can build due to the job market outlook or knowing that layoffs may be coming soon.  You need cost-effective options to deal with increased labour relations activity.  Or you may be facing what you consider to be regular workload levels resulting from managing your labour force, but the team you manage has been drastically reduced.  

Your internal capacity and expertise are not what it was two years ago, but the demands remain.  Workforce Delivery can pick up challenging labour relations issues for you such as collective bargaining, grievance handling and complex investigations.  

Where With Peopel Inc. can help – Effective and cost-conscious solutions.  With People Inc. can offer ad hoc labour relations and labour supply services for places where project work is still underway and existing operations in all sectors continue.   

Cost pressures may create an opportunity (or pressure) to review labour supply costs from top to bottom.  

Approaches or sources that were never up for serious consideration in the past may now make sense.  

With People Inc. can be the source for unbiased analysis of the value provided by various labour-sourcing strategies together with transition plans.

The final call remains yours, but demands have never been greater for your decision to be based on critical screening of all the options on the table since 2015.  Our services for labour relations or labour supply can be provided on an ad hoc basis at an hourly rate.  Some common service types we offer:  

  • Single grievance or investigation file completion. 
  • Interim backfill of an unexpected vacancy of a labour relations manager or site role. 
  • Develop a labour supply strategy, with the option to execute that strategy, reporting back progress. 
  • Provide collective bargaining services for a full round of bargaining with one or more trades or unions. 
  • Fulfill labour supply shortfall needs including sourcing, screening, onboarding and booking of travel and accommodations.  

With People Inc. supplies its own phones, common business software and computers and workspace.  So none of the items represent an added cost to our clients.  For full rates and terms please contact us.  Our principal labour relations Practitioner, Sam Kemble have a combined 18+ years of experience in all aspects of labour relations.