You are preaching to the choir when you say labor relations is tough.
In all things labor, I've had it relatively easy in my career. Even so, there have been hurtful moments, tears, second guesses, the horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized I missed a detail, misinterpreted a sign, over (or under) estimated a gesture or simply misplayed the game. It wasn't easy, it wasn't comfortable, but I learned.
Supervisors who come to me looking for a member of my staff to "take the blame" because their feeling were hurt, or ask me to "do something” to ensure meetings with labor representatives run collaboratively and comfortably are sent away disappointed when they are told to learn from the experience . . . and get thicker skin.
On Rehaul by Lance Haun, Lance wrote, "people really don’t deal with conflict well in the workplace. More specifically, a large proportion of people think that people should be more agreeable and reduce conflict wherever possible."
Only The Strong Survive
Conflict is inherent in labor relations, and no, I can't (or won't) make it go away. What I (HR) can do is assist supervisors in dealing with conflict more effectively. I can provide technical expertise, offer advice, lessons learned and points to consider, meet to review issues evidence and talking points, and when appropriate, facilitate discussions between supervisors and the union.
Some things simply can not be taught in a classroom. Much of labor management relations is just in time training and as life would have it, the time often comes before the training. Learn the rules of the game, buck up, and do your homework. Be honest, forthright and equitable. Build relationships every day. Know that conflict will always be there, it's the nature of beast.
Own it, learn from it, or grab a seat in the bleachers. Meeting adjourned.
Rant aside, HR pros, what have you done to better prepare your supervisors for the labor-management dynamic? Let me know in the comments.
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