Our Experts


Three Questions with Janine Higgins


Often leaders and managers will ignore workplace conflict, hoping it will go away or resolve itself.  Why is this the wrong approach to dealing with this issue?

 Ignoring an issue is fine when the issue is trivial.  However, in my experience managers and leaders are often nervous about addressing conflict and so they become the ostrich with their head in the sand, hoping that if they ignore something it will go away.  In fact, what often happens is that the issue festers.  Aggrieved employees' work suffers and so does their relationship with their co-workers.  In some instances, the morale of a whole organization suffers.  Another outcome is that the workplace becomes divided into 'camps' with some people supporting one side of a conflict and the other people supporting the other side.  It is much easier to deal with conflict at relatively early stages.  Once conflict becomes entrenched and people behavior badly to each other, there is more to address.  Sometimes this requires outside intervention and that can be expensive and time consuming (although worthwhile if the issue gets to that point).


We’re hearing a lot about the importance of understanding emotional intelligence (EI) in the workplace these days.  Why is EI such a hot button issue?

Emotional Intelligence is short for 'emotional and social intelligence'.  It refers to how one manages oneself, and how one interacts with others.  In the most commonly used EI assessment, fifteen different elements of emotional intelligence are measured: from emotional self-awareness, to independence, to assertiveness, to empathy, to objectivity, to stress management and optimism.  The things that qualify us for a job are our educational achievements and work experience.  However, the things that make us successful or unsuccessful in actually performing in the role are these intra- and inter-personal skills.  The really great thing about EI is that these are learnable skills, not an unchanging thing like IQ.


Some people have difficulty asserting themselves in workplaces, for fear they will be labelled as aggressive or even bossy.  What advice would you give to someone who struggles in this area?

Assertiveness is an approach and a set of communication skills that allow us to be direct without demeaning.  Assertiveness is absolutely not aggressiveness.  Aggressive people are trying to advance their own personal or psychological agendas without thinking about others, or perhaps even intentionally trying to put others down.  I think people who abhor this kind of unkind or insensitive behavior want to make sure they are never seen this way.  However, they swing to the other side of the pendulum.  Saying nothing or agreeing when you really don't agree is being passive or submissive.  This is the other type of behavior to which assertiveness is contrasted.  This approach is just as problematic as being aggressive and, frequently irksome to others.  My advice would be to take a course or read a book about how to communicate assertively.  When one has the skills to communicate in a way that is fair to oneself but not harmful to another, outcomes and relationships improve.



Janine explains how the Circle of Conflict helps us address conflict through examining the five primary causes.


Instructor Spotlight - Janine Higgins


Janine Higgins is a chartered mediator, a former corporate commercial lawyer, and an acclaimed training facilitator. She teaches courses for educational institutions, government, corporations, and organizations throughout Ontario and in several other provinces. In 1994, Janine began conducting training for Western Continuing Studies, where she is the architect and principal instructor of our Conflict Management.  Her courses revolve around many important work-related topics, such as: positive communication, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and managing conflict in the workplace.