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Hone Your Labor Relations Skills

Human Resources Professionals Can Develop Skills and Positive Approaches


HR Professionals Often Work in Labor Relations Roles

HR Professionals Often Work in Labor Relations Roles


Human Resource professionals who also have Labor and Employee Relations responsibilities need to feel at the top of your game, when addressing Labor Relations issues. You can if you regularly practice the following skills:

  • Focus on team success over individual success,
  • Explore new ideas and challenge the status quo,
  • When issues occur, work the issue not the person, and
  • Communicate with candor and openness.

Focus on team success over individual success. Realize that when you work with labor, you have formed a team; therefore be aware of your team’s maturity and ability to achieve objectives for each issue. Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s 1965, assessment of teams, their growth, development and ability to achieve objectives, is still relevant today:

  1. Forming (addressing an issue for the first time)

  2. Storming (discussing the what, when, why, how, and what to do about the issue)

  3. Norming (coming to some agreement about how to resolve the issue)

  4. Performing (actually doing something, for example the grievance process, addressing at labor management meeting, addressing at negotiations table and so forth – or revisiting an old issue and reworking it.)

See also: Dr. Bruce Tuckman’s Team Development Model

Explore new ideas and challenge the status quo. Today’s businesses must be fiscally responsible, staffed flexibly, with HR/Labor Relations staff who are strategically relevant demonstrating their ability to be:

  • innovative,
  • exhibit performance excellence, and
  • be able to analyze and synthesize the information forming unique and practical solutions.

To invite new ideas and unconventional solutions:

  • Daily, talk to someone and learn: what she thinks about her job’s classification, pay, and industry changes. Consider the collective bargaining agreement, employment laws and what new considerations will make the company viable ten years from now.

  • Weekly, have a conversation (phone, text, email, personally) with at least one person from every division in your company. If your employees are represented by a union, ask, Do they think unions are obsolete or operationally ineffectual? If so, why and what specifically can strengthen your next negotiation? If your organization does not have unions, ask instead about employee morale and satisfaction and how they can improve. Indeed, you’ll also want to ask this question of represented employees.

  • Quarterly, in a union setting, summarize and evaluate whether or not your traditional way of negotiating is relevant to maximizing diverse worker demographics, employment flexibility, and continuing international worker migration?

Recognize that when issues arise, work the issue, not the person. An issue, is any situation or circumstance, where what you want or need conflicts with what someone else wants or needs. Depending on the degree of disagreement and the value placed on winning, people have been known to actually, or appear to, manipulate resources, influence people, and disguise or substitute camouflage issues.

Each person's values, in whole or in part, are based on a combination of nurture, nature, community, and self-interests. Two people can have the same or similar background and still arrive at very different conclusions based on differing values. In addition to an individual’s values, when the individual’s communication skills (verbal, tone of voice, and non-verbal clues) are added to the communication mix, it is easy to see that sometimes the issues get sidetracked and the people become the problem.

All people have core values that influence their desires and behaviors, and, your primary ongoing objective is to learn whether your business and your employee’s core values are compatible.

Develop your active listening skills.

  • Pay attention to who defines fairness, (or was that ever considered).

  • What is the reputation of you and the other participants for being clear, truthful, and approachable?

  • Determine what will it take to change both the perception and the tone of relationships if this is needed?

Communicate with candor and openness. Practicing active listening means a full two-thirds of your time needs to be spent with you being quiet and listening. You already, know what you know, now listen and learn what others think, want, feel, believe, and say they need. Long lasting, optimal labor and employee relationships are built on networks and influences. Your relationships are only as good as they are perceived to be, by others, in the relationship.

Relationships that are authentic, reliable, and factual, display balance, consideration, and knowledge about the subject matter. Often, during the most contentious disagreement, mutual respect for each other may be the only thread motivating each party to stay engaged and attempt to work things out.

To interact with candor and openness:

  • Repeat and/or rephrase what you have heard to make sure your understanding is complete and accurate.
  • If the individual has not told you why they think what they do, ask. Sometimes the why is more important than the what.

  • Ask what is the best way to deliver bad news.

  • Ask what is the best way to show the issue was considered even if not accepted.

  • Give people what they need to acknowledge you have heard and considered their issue.

  • Establish written discussion protocols and identify primary negotiation styles for each issue.

  • Bargain over issues not positions.

Many an issue has been resolved, and an unfair labor practice filing avoided, because the other party actually listened and considered the idea or proposal.

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