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Escalation of emotions during labour negotiations

|July 21, 2017
Burning matches

One of the many reasons clients hire communications professionals is that we are able to offer an outside, objective and an emotionally unattached point of view to a variety of internal situations. This is especially true during labour negotiations, whether we are working for the employer or the union. As senior advisors, this is where we need to be at our best. The issues we’re dealing with are the make-or- break of our client’s world in that decisions made during negotiations impact people and the organization for many years.

In a perfect world, labour negotiations consist of a series of processes that evolve over several months and that ultimately conclude with a new contract. But often times, we are called upon when a deadline is fast approaching – sometimes within the last days, or even down to the last hours of a pivotal discussion at the table – such is the case with sprint negotiations that might only last 24 to 48 hours with neither parties getting any rest. We’re often brought in when the situation is at its most critical and volatile point in the course of the negotiation.

The atmosphere is tense for both negotiating committees – those representing the company and the union representing employees. Those serving on the negotiating committees are often under pressure from those they represent and in balancing the desire to reach a negotiated agreement and to ensure they deliver on the mandate they were given by those they represent. The situation usually flirts with taking on cataclysmic proportions. And this is where our contribution needs to be one of calmness and level-headed strategic counsel. This is when the client will turn to us and request «outside point of view» counsel to make the difference.

It is during this period of escalating emotions that we need to be able to help our clients move their agenda forward by bringing them back to the initial mandate they received. In the process of labour negations, our role is – more than ever – to help our clients articulate their vision and drive it to completion.

Three ways we can do this is by:

TIP 1: Helping our clients communicate their story in a way that is consistent and that aligns with their overall strategy and mandate – this is especially important when the party across the table turns up the heat with rhetoric and threats.

TIP 2: Planning scenarios throughout negotiations helps clients keep options open on how best to reach an agreement and deliver on their mandate. Communications messages need to be able to accommodate tactical changes at the table.

TIP 3: Being as transparent and factual as possible with those in your ecosystem about what’s at stake in the negotiations is important but is more effective when information is provided well in advance of negotiations, not when emotions are inflamed.

At the end of the day, we need to remember why we’ve been brought into the room – to provide honest counsel. It can be difficult to play this role when emotions are high, but by remembering our purpose, it can help to de-escalate emotions and provide better counsel.

——— Kim West is a former Partner and Chief Client Officer at NATIONAL Public Relations


Written by Maddie Alvarez

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