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Who are Your Workplace Actors?

Extract #3 from Workplaces That Work: A Guide to Conflict Management in Union and Non-Union Work Environments (Aurora: Canada Law Book, 2006), Blaine Donais

The effective management of workplace conflict requires a thorough understanding of the roles that individuals play in generating and resolving this conflict.

A workplace could be compared to an improvisational play where the participants are all given certain roles but no standard scripts to work from. Each player is set with a particular role in the workplace, certain goals to accomplish, certain obstacles to overcome, and perhaps some generic tools to use to reach these goals. Each player has an authority to report to and certain expectations given them by that authority concerning both behavior and results.

Let’s take, for example, the Human Resources Professional. The HR professional is hired to ensure that there are no needless human distractions from the business at hand. The HR professional is responsible for ensuring that line management understands the legal significance of certain actions (like human rights violations) and is charged with ensuring that the employer is protected from legal liability from disgruntled employees. The HR professional is also responsible for defending the employer in case there is such liability.

There are general guidelines provided to that HR professional. Most employers require HR professionals to have (or be working on) a professional designation, covering employment law, compensation and benefits. And there are other courses that HR professionals can take to improve their understanding of their roles. At the end of the day, however, there is no script for the HR professional – just a number of scenarios that arise and an opportunity to use HR skills to effect a good outcome.

And a good outcome for an HR professional might be different than for an employee, a labour representative, a supervisor or a line manager. For example, a line manager might want to fire an employee in order to hire someone younger and more open to new technology. The line manager’s goal is to increase the bottom line – to ensure that his/her department makes money for the shareholder. The HR professional, however, may foresee a different outcome for the company – such as an expensive law-suit on age discrimination or a messy public human rights complaint. The HR professional’s goal might be a successful offer of a voluntary resignation package.

Each “actor” in the workplace has a role to play both in the engendering of workplace conflict and in its successful resolution. Each of these “players” could develop expertise in the practice of conflict resolution, thus contributing to a healthier workplace. To understand the role that each workplace actor plays in managing conflict, it is important to understand the context in which the player must perform this task. The traditional question to ask in such circumstances is “what is my motivation?”

In Workplaces That Work, the reader is introduced to the different workplace “players”, their roles in the workplace, including their motivations, goals, tools, authorities, responsibilities, and their traditional backgrounds. The roles are distinguished from their “conflict styles” which are more individual in nature. The book sets out the typical roles of the owners, CEO’s, managers, supervisors, HR professionals, union representatives, employees and third party professionals. For each role, the book discusses the actor’s general interests, goals and responsibilities, interest in conflict management, typical training in conflict management, authority within the organization and reporting relationships.

In addition to traditional roles, Workplaces that Work sets out a template for the examination of individual actors. Each workplace is different and will have variations on typical roles. The workplace consultant should carefully consider the actual roles in the workplace, using the templates and information on typical roles as a guideline.

To learn more about workplace actors, the reader can visit


Blaine Donais

Blaine Donais B.A., LL.B., LL.M. (ADR), RPDR, C. Med., author of Workplaces That Work, published by Canada Law Book, has spent many years working with public and private sector professionals. He is President and Founder of the Workplace Fairness Institute, Conflict Management Solutions. He has represented professionals as a labour… MORE >

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