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Leadership and Conflict Resolution in the PSAP

Author: Sue Pivetta

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-12-11
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The Joy of Leadership


Joy to the world, peace on earth etc etc. Yet what about the ongoing Criticizing, Condemning, Complaining? Natural human behavior - to a point. But when the 3 Cs become epidemic in your Comm Center it's time to take some leadership action.

But how? First, believe these behaviors are the result of ongoing, unresolved or ignored conflict, or needs. The core concept of Conflict Resolution is that when there is conflict between people or groups - it's a result of ignored or conflicting needs (lights on/lights off - chairs - schedule - cleaning - uniforms - processes - procedures - OT implementation - consistency - accountability - fairness).

So, now what? If your leadership vision for your Comm Center is a more peaceful, cohesive, happy (happy? really) workplace you can be the one that initiates needed change. Let's explore how conflict acts and how you can turn damaging conflict into true growth and improved relationships and peace - yours or theirs.


The Joy of Conflict

Really?? Why do we get unhappy at work, especially in the Comm Center? When people conflict in the Comm Center - generally it can be about any of the following (pick one or more as your personal favorite): 

  1. blocked personal needs or growth such as training or promotions (see #4 and #5).
  2. feeling de-valued or dismissed (see #3).
  3. not being heard when 'they' say they are listening.
  4. allocation of resources time, $$, space, stuff.
  5. justice in fair distribution, fair treatment, lack of freedom, in-equality in implementing policy etc.
  6. differing personality, perspectives, lifestyles, values, beliefs - I am right you are wrong, you bug me!.
  7. disagreement about how things are done, how things should be done, how things were done.
  8. lack (or death) of trust from historical wrongs (or any of these things happening at any time in the last 20 years)..
  9. demonizing them (administration, new people, old people, supervisors, trainers, call takers, dispatchers, gen x, gen whatever... you know... them... the ones who care not).

OK, those were events, or perceived events, and they happen. What can be done to create a workplace that has fewer of these or a process for when stuff happens that stuff can be resolved and even create improved relationships?

Why should leaders care? Well because conflict includes: blame, right and wrong,good and bad, presumed ill intentions, unsatisfied needs, emotional retreating, negativity. None of these are welcomed in a professional organization. Unresolved or endless conflicts provoke: resentment, victimization, demonizing, stress, withdrawal, and fractionalizing of your team.

The greatest danger that leaders face is a tendency to retreat from conflict, or to adapt to it as the 'nature of the animal.’ This retreat or adapt mentality means abandoning all possibility of doing what a leader is supposed to do - lead. The joy part comes when you feel the breath of fresh air that comes from resolution!


The Joy of Curiosity

Conflict is the sound made by cracks in your system. It’s contradictory forces co-existing in a single space. So, when conflict happens, you could recognize the great opportunity for a leader to show leadership by filling needs. Or by setting limits on behavior that is the result of immaturity in the work place (listen here for more on that).

Yet in conflict people tend to:

  • avoid/ignore the conflict and hold resentment.
  • deny the conflict (what conflict?).
  • react emotionally; become aggressive, reclusive, victimized, or defensive.
  • blame the other.
  • delegate the situation to someone else - generally a supervisor.

As a leader it is important to become the 'curious observer' and not the victim of this stuff. It is also important as the observer to understand all behavior makes sense (it's about needs!). However, that doesn't mean all behavior is acceptable.


The Joy of the Story

Here is step one in the process I use in a Comm Center mediation - sometimes called Facilitated Conversations.

Each person is asked to tell their story, every person has one. “Tell me about how things are going for you here at work.” Take notes. Repeat it back to include emotions - try to say it back exactly. Ask if that is correct. This is the first stage in any facilitated conversation in order to determine needs.

To learn the entire process, and it is a process, it would be a very good thing to get your personnel training in Mediation and Conflict Resolution.

Want to know more? Click here for a free MIT training manual for mediation (for non commercial use).


Sue Pivetta is president of Professional Pride, Inc.   She has worked in emergency communications since 1989 as a college instructor, consultant, workshop leader and author.   She teaches adult learning through her book and workshop The Exceptional Trainer.  Contact Sue through her website


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