Yale University, its unions, and conflict resolution

The New Haven Register reported today that Yale University and its unionized workers were able to reach agreement on a contract without going on strike — for the first time since 1988! No strike, no arbitration, no formal mediation. I don’t often write about labor issues, but an interview today on WPNR shed some interesting light on this achievement.  A union spokesman was asked what was different this time around and his response says a lot about conflict resolution — particularly how to prevent destructive conflict from getting started in the first place.

The last contract ratified had included a provision for periodic, even frequent, meetings throughout the life of the contract between university and union counterparts.  Throughout these many, regular sessions two things occurred.

First, people who might otherwise encounter each other only rarely when they weren’t sitting across the table with a strike deadline looming came to know each other and to build relationships.  They had an opportunity to get to know each other a bit and to see each other’s perspective.

Second, small issues could be addressed before they became festering, growing problems that became very difficult to solve.

These lessons can be applied in many situations — in a formal contract, in an operating plan, in a company’s culture. The best way to handle destructive conflict is to prevent it in the first place.

Posted in Basics of Mediation and Conflict, Business Mediation, Conflict Resolution in the News, Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

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