Failures in Communication: Stormy Seas ahead for Workplace Relations


Stormy seas off the Butt of Lewis

The latest events in British politics show us how damaging the results of failures in communication can be. And with the cost-of-living crisis and rising rates for energy and raw materials, there are plenty of difficult conversations ahead for companies, trade unions and employees alike.

Turmoil with Serious Consequences

The stormy seas that I blogged about back in the summer continued into the early autumn. This was following my return from St. Kilda where the ‘summer’ continued to be influenced rather less strongly by the heatwave that the rest of us experienced this July and August. In particular,

All as a result of the political turmoil heralded by the tax-cutting ‘mini-budget’ announced by the government in late September.

I can only imagine the difficult conversations then Prime Minister Liz Truss and her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng had with officials from the Office of Budgetary Responsibility. This took place – somewhat belatedly – subsequent to that turmoil, with the goal of accounting for, and trying to overcome, the tough market reaction to this government’s turn in its policy agenda.

Several factors are involved but ultimately, it is easy to see any such breakdown as failures of understanding or, alternatively, failures in communication. A view that the Prime Minister later advanced. And this is ignoring the furore over the reception event held between the then Chancellor and leading entrepreneurs on the day of the ‘mini-budget’. In this particular situation, it was not only that, of course. Markets – composed in this case largely of individuals in a position to dictate events and the reactions of others – reacted badly to the lack of proper funding of the tax-cutting plans.

Nevertheless, it is also true in any situation that, when we fail to communicate properly with others, breakdowns are very likely to be the result. And, frequently, when those others are in a position of influence, the level of damage that may result can have serious consequences. 

Handling Difficult Conversations

As the autumn has got underway, trade union and company negotiators in a variety of sectors and industries are also continuing to face up to the need to have difficult conversations. On the one hand, as a result of the rising cost of living. On the other hand, because of what rising energy and raw materials prices mean for affordability. Industrial action is back following the national period of mourning occasioned by the death of the Queen. At the same time, the autumn round of negotiations is getting underway.

Many of us are faced with having difficult conversations with people at different times of our lives. That might be in a workplace context. Here those conversations might be about wages or performance appraisals, or about disciplinary or grievance hearings. These, frequently, prove to be uncomfortable to both parties either in the contemplation of them or in the conduct. Or, alternatively, it might be about the need to have difficult conversations with our energy suppliers, our mortgage providers or our banks.

Anywhere the primary subject matter of a conversation is contentious or sensitive, or where it raises emotions that are unpredictable, is likely to be a difficult one. And being anxious about having it, or putting it off because of our fears of what might happen, just raises the stakes even higher.

The good news is that most of us have felt that way at some point, so we’re not alone. The better news is that good negotiators recognise those feelings, both in themselves and in others. And they can be trained to deal with them. As with anything else, knowing how to handle and direct that conversation – and, in particular, those emotions – provides the key.

How to Avoid Failures in Communication

For me, there are several pointers on how to avoid failures in communication. Sound preparation and marshalling of arguments and factors are naturally important. As is setting the ground rules for how that conversation will develop. Frequently (in a representative setting) involving offline meetings which take the sting out of set-piece ones.

Here, there are a number of factors which will help:

  • Speaking calmly
  • Not pointing fingers (quite literally!)
  • Listening carefully
  • Cross-checking information where necessary

These are tactics that good negotiators will deploy to defuse the emotions which drive conversations in a difficult direction. The ability to listen is a core skill for negotiators. After all, subsequently making inaccurate representations of the other person’s point of view, because the arguments and perspectives they have advanced haven’t been fully heard, is a very good way to undermine the person-to-person trust. And that is an essential ingredient in keeping relationships going despite difficult times.

At Strathesk, we have years of experience both as negotiators and as trainers of negotiators. We know what it’s like to be involved in a close, detailed, complex negotiation. And we work with many clients whose negotiators are able to draw on our experiences, tips and techniques to benefit them and to help them resolve difficult conversations. And, in the process, we help them grow as negotiators and become better ones.

Maintaining Relationships

Not every negotiation can result in a positive outcome: sometimes they fail in spite of the best efforts of both parties to obtain a resolution which works for each of them. And, sometimes, either or both are unable to move far enough to accommodate the other. What happens next is a story for another day. But recognising the need to maintain relationships is the first, essential stage in preventing conversations from becoming (even) more difficult in the future as those stormy seas continue to rage.

Far be it from me to seek to offer any advice to the current Prime Minister in the difficult conversations he will be having in the coming days and weeks. But, if asked, one tip I might offer would be: Learn to listen to other people. That way lies not only improved understanding but better communications that help to prevent breakdowns.

We’d be interested to know your thoughts on this, so please leave a comment. And if you’d like to discuss this topic more directly, please contact us at or give Malcolm a call on 07736068787.



January 13, 2023

Strikes Bill UK: Striking the Right Legal Balance

Industrial actions over the past months have highlighted the difficulties for both organisations and individuals in the wake of the pandemic, energy and cost-of-living crisis.

Read More >


October 27, 2022

Failures in Communication: Stormy Seas ahead for Workplace Relations

The latest events in British politics show us how damaging the results of failures in communication can be. 

Read More >


July 1, 2022

Stormy Industrial Seas

I’m just back from the wonderful experience of visiting St Kilda. 

Read More >


February 23, 2022

Get Past No in Negotiations & Disputes

How a change in perspective can help with dispute resolution

Read More >


March 10, 2021

"I’d rather struggle and complain!"

Have you ever found yourself dealing with someone who refuses to see a solution you find blindingly obvious, but refuses to take it? You’re not alone!

Read More >


January 19, 2021

Are you listening?

One of the keys to successful negotiation is to listen and understand what’s REALLY being said by the ‘other side’. As a mediator and negotiator, listening is my stock in trade, but that doesn’t mean it happens easily.

Read More >


November 24, 2020

Winning arguments with yourself?

I recently spoke with Roxanne Kerr of Helix Trauma Therapies for her regular podcast. We set out to discuss why conflict occurs. I enjoyed the conversation and I thought I’d share the result.

Read More >


October 12, 2020

International Mediation Training

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been privileged to deliver mediation skills training on a number of occasions for the ITCILO, writes Strathesk Re:solutions Founding Director, Malcolm Currie.

Read More >


June 15, 2020

Legal mediation: time to start talking!

With court business still at a low ebb, there has never been a better time to consider mediation. Find out how online mediation works, where to access it and how you can try it out

Read More >


April 28, 2020

A Day to Remember

Forget-me-not - this year International Workers’ Memorial Day has a special poignancy. 

Read More >


March 30, 2020

Looking Beyond Lockdown

It’s the end of our first week in lockdown, so I thought I’d share my reflections on how I, and my business, are being affected.

Read More >


February 28, 2020

Governing Change at Work

There has been a lot of discussion about corporate governance in recent years, even more about the place of the workforce within that. 

Read More >


November 8, 2019

Taking Mediation to the Next Level

About a year ago, Founding Director of Strathesk Re:solutions, Malcolm Currie, undertook to take his mediation to the next level. Sounds good! But what on Earth does it mean?

Read More >


July 11, 2019

Lessons from staying in the middle

Malcolm Currie, a member of CEDR's Training Faculty shares his experience of being a Rugby Referee Coach and a Trade Union Negotiator and the lessons he has learnt from them.

Read More >


May 23, 2019

Taking a Long Look at Yourself…

One of the disciplines that underpins mediation is the benefit that comes from reflecting on how a recent process has run. But it’s a habit that can have much wider benefits.

Read More >


April 17, 2019

Reflections from Tbilisi

Read More >


January 31, 2019

To mediate, or not to mediate, that is the question

Despite that, many employers have been slow to adopt mediation as an approach, often reluctant to put it in place early enough to prevent some situations becoming intractable. 

Read More >


November 20, 2018

Bullying at work shouldn’t be hidden by ‘playground’ stigma

This is Anti-Bullying Week 2018 (#ABW2018), with a series of events, articles and publications aimed at making the problem of bullying something about which we all know more and are better equipped to stop.

Read More >


October 16, 2018

Putting Mental Health in its Proper Workplace…

Last Wednesday was World Mental Health Day 2018.  The day aims to raise awareness of mental health and the issues around it, particularly those that arise from mental ILL-health.

Read More >


July 17, 2018

A record year for strikes

The Office of National Statistics has recently published its latest figures around industrial disputes. 

Read More >


March 18, 2018

International Women’s Day – is it needed?

Today is International Women’s Day, so I thought it was timely to reflect on perceptions of women’s place in UK societyand ask the question: International Women’s Day – is it needed?

Read More >


February 13, 2018

Shared Parental Leave, Another Push?

The Government is running a campaign to encourage new parents to share their parental leave.

Read More >


December 14, 2017

Training in Copenhagen

At the end of November I delivered a training course on Advanced Negotiation Skills.

Read More >


October 6, 2017

SME Sickness Absence – Prevention or Cure, THAT is the Problem…

Most of my blogs have been about topics in the news that I find interesting, or on which I’d like to provoke a little debate, but this time round I thought I’d take a slightly different approach and reach out to people who.

Read More >


July 27, 2017

Good Riddance to Employment Tribunal Fees

Well, it’s been a long time coming, but the Cameron Government’s decision to charge fees for people to raise claims in the Employment Tribunal has finally been shown to be illegal.

Read More >


July 10, 2017

Taylor Report on Employment – where now?

We (OK, a few of us) were on tenterhooks waiting for the publication of the Taylor Report into employment practices in the UK, but will it make things clearer or further muddy the waters?

Read More >


May 19, 2017

Back to the Future as wages are predicted to stay in the past

In spite of political insistence that the economy is recovering, and has been for a good while, this week the BBC’s Economics Editor has predicted that wages are likely to stagnate for a good while longer.

Read More >


April 17, 2017

Trade Unions face big new fines

“The number of working days lost are at historically low levels when looking at the long-run monthly time series back to the 1930s.”

Read More >