Handling Bullying and Harassment - the One Skill

Tuesday May 24, 2016

Derek Minus, Barrister & Dispute Resolution Consultant at the Mediation and Arbitration Chambers, spoke with Sintija Dobrotinsek of Legalwise Seminars to discuss handling bullying and harassment in the playground and staff room.

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You can find the transcript of the Q&A below.

We, at Legalwise Seminars, know you for your engaging sessions designed to help lawyers handle conflict through a series of practical techniques. How are they different from other seminars on mediation that school principals and officials might be more familiar with?

As an introductory remark, I have been working at the resolution of bullying and harassment claims for many years. First, as a Workers Compensation Commissioner dealing with claims for psychological injury and secondly mediating workplace disputes for governments and organisations within the legal system. Working with these individual disputes has given me a wider appreciation of the cause and nature of the conflict process. I would also add that before I was called to the Bar, I spent 16 years working as an executive in multinational corporations, so I have had my share of workplace conflicts.

So what I intend to do is go straight to the heart of the problem. Specifically, what I will be doing is teaching the one technique that any Principal needs to resolve a dispute in the classroom or playground, the ABC Technique. A simple, powerful, effective method to handle disputes that can be taught to schoolchildren to empower them and keep them safe. Therefore, you can see this as a way to resolve the problem at the start not put in place a system of resolution (say by mediation) afterwards. The ABC Technique is preventive and present, a way to build resilience, confidence and skill in handling conflict in one’s life.

While you are a practising barrister, you won’t be focusing so much on the Fair Work Act and other relating legislation. Do you think we focus too much on letter of the law in resolving conflicts?

In fact, nothing at all. My session will not be about legislation or legal process, the history of workplace disputes or research into their cause, frequency or likelihood. Of course the work I generally do as a dispute resolve is done in the shadow of the legislation and with knowledge of the legal process. In our society, governed by the rule of law, legislation and legal process frame the dispute. Historically there were circumstances for which society (that is the legal system) offered no remedies for wrongs that were suffered by individuals or groups within that society. The "letter of the law” can then be seen as an enveloping process that permits groups in our society who feel they have suffered a wrong to have a voice and seek remedies for any harm they have suffered. In just the last 100 years, our society and other democratically based Western orientated countries have similarly moved to recognise all manner of disputes and offer structured remedies through the legal process. However, that process in itself, because of the necessary formalities of dealing with issues within the court structure has become stultifying, expensive and damaging of the participants.

Disputes are ultimately between people and the growth of modern alternative or appropriate dispute resolution strategies (like mediation) have provided a people-centric as opposed to a process-centric way of resolving the conflict. So what I actually going to be teaching is how to work closely with the people in the dispute to bring them to an appreciation of the interpersonal nature of the conflict and giving them the skills by which they can reach their own resolution.

I can’t imagine this happening often, however when you find yourself in a situation that has a potential to erupt what is the first thing you do?

Practice the technique I am going to teach all of the attendees on the day: the ABC Technique. Accept the situation for whatever it is, however it has been caused, it is the reality to the participants. Be safe, Breathe and Be willing to move off-line get out of the way of harm. Stay Connected. It is the one technique that anyone can use to settle any dispute in a powerful, yet pleasant manner. The hard part is staying on course, because as humans we want to act instinctively – and that’s what causes the problem.

You are also an Aikido instructor, how do you see the 2 worlds - resolving conflicts in a professional environment and martial arts - fusing in your life?

Well I first taught these Aikido techniques at the request of the Australian Taxation Office to its managers in a program called, believe it or not; “Managing in the 90s”. This was before I started work as a barrister. I thought at the time, that it was a strange combination and that I should drop the Aikido idea in favour of the system of legal resolution and court based processes that I was intending to make my career. However, after now 25 years at the Bar and having qualified as a nationally accredited mediator, family dispute resolution practitioner, court arbitrator, international commercial arbitrator and expert determiner; I see that the most effective method of resolution of real disputes is the one derived from real conflict, the art of harmony that is Aikido. For that reason, I am regularly instructed by commercial solicitors to resolve partnership breakdowns, intra-company conflicts and inter-company contractual disputes because these are all ultimately about people not law and that’s where the Aikido techniques work best – dealing with people in conflict in a harmonious yet powerful manner. In fact, last month I was in Tokyo meeting with Japanese lawyers and offering to bring these techniques back to Japan and teach them to Japanese bengoshi (lawyers)!

Personal Profile
Derek Minus is a barrister-at-law with a specialist practice as a dispute resolver. He holds accreditation variously as a Mediator, Arbitrator, Expert Determiner and Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP). Derek was an early adopter of mediation in 1992 and is a Nationally Accredited and advanced Mediator who has as conducted over 3,000 mediations and conciliations across all types of disputes. He mediates matters as diverse as commercial contract disputes, partnership problems, bullying and complaints for organisations and family law disputes. Derek is a graded a Chartered Arbitrator and trained as an International Commercial Arbitrator by the CIArb (UK). He is an arbitration and mediation panellist for the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association and is expert in the conduct of combined conciliation/mediation and arbitration processes. Since 2000, he has acted as a part-time member of the NCAT and Workers Compensation Commission and is currently appointed an arbitrator to the NSW Local Court and District Court. He is also appointed as an arbitrator by the NSW Government to deal with land access disputes involving (coal) mining companies and appointed by the Minister for Agriculture to assist with the development of a national farm debt mediation scheme. Derek is the lecturer for the Commercial Dispute Resolution course at the University of Sydney Law School teaching both the law relating to the use of ADR processes as well as practical skills. He conducts the "Minus on Mediation" programme for Legalwise which is based uniquely on his over 40 years martial arts practice in the Art of Aikido (Harmony). Through his company, Dispute Resolution Associates he provides negotiation training and dispute management service to organisations and government with a number of expert and experienced legal dispute resolvers, located at www.disputeresolvers.com.au. He is also the publisher of the largest database of accredited Australian Dispute Resolvers: www.adr.org.au


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