Blunders managers often encounter when attempting to resolve workplace disputes

In today’s workplace employee conflicts may and do happen. Sometimes they begin as simple matters which escalate into significant issues in the workplace causing lower performance and productivity resulting in lack of communication, misunderstanding of the intent, personality clashes or different perceptions and values.  

 

It is vital to deal with employee conflict, whether minor or significant, in a timely fashion to preserve a positive, healthy work environment and to evade any increase or collateral damage among work teams and others departments. 

 

We are finding that managers often do not respond accordingly to the issues of conflict in the workplace. In many cases, it is for lack of experience, fear of retaliation against them, insufficient training and lack of confidence. Sometimes they find it easier to avoid and ignore then tackle the sensitive issues.   

 

When issues are not dealt with quickly and efficiently in the workplace, they tend to fester and develop in magnitude. When an employer has contacted me, the situation usually has been growing underground, so to speak, for some months before it explodes in either the HR office or before the managers. Typically, at this point, the problem is more complicated, involves more staff and takes more effort and time to resolve. At times it may even undermine the staff’s confidence in the manager’s ability to manage. 

 

Some common behaviours of supervisors and managers which may have a negative impact on the managing of workplace disputes effectively would be ignoring the situation until it is about to “burst”.  

 

When managers disregard challenging situations, when they do come to the surface, they require immediate and urgent action usually at a very inconvenient time to resolve. Some managers tend to overlook an awkward situation altogether until the case is ready to blow up. Then they need to take immediate action to try to deal with it, and this almost always occurs at an inconvenient time, like on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Putting your management head in the sand will not make the problem go away, it will only make it worst. Taking action early in the workplace dispute development is usually the best solution, with the most excellent chance of success. 

 

Not dealing with a conflict that is escalating quickly, many managers found themselves frustrated and overwhelmed which could add fuel to the case, potentially affecting the decision-making process and the capability to contain and resolve the situation comprehensively.

 

Another mistake a manager may make is letting the office politics interfere with resolving the conflict. When office politics interfere with the steps of the solution, staff in the workplace goes camping. Taking sides of either the complainant or the respondent. The team that tries to remain neutral (sitting on the fence) only suffer the ongoing bickering of the two parties.

 

The way that employees perceive situations in the workplace are essential to resolving the conflicts in the actions to be taken. A biased move (recognized or not) on the managers part may result in more battles and create permanent barriers in the workplace.  

 

The objective of workplace dispute resolution in the first place is to come to an agreement or solution that is practical and realistic for all parties. So it may mean there is a requirement for conciliation to move forward to resolution by the manager.  

 

Taking a page out of Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” book and initially “seek to understand then be understood”.  

 

Sitting down with the employees, listening actively to what they are disturbed about, gathering all the information from both sides and only then attempting to craft a clear picture of what is going on, why and what the options might be regarding resolving or improving things for those caught up in the conflict.  

 

The bottom line is that disputes and conflict in the workplace are not stoppable. Anticipating how to approach these workplace situations beforehand, may put you in a position to be ready to take action when they occur.

 

Monika B. Jensen PhD
TEL: 905-683-9953

WEBSITE: www.aviarygroup.ca
PRINCIPAL
FAX: 905-683-9912

 

 

 

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Mental Health Problems and the Workplace

October is Mental Health Month. Recently there has been bigger mindfulness of the impact of mental health problems on individuals and the workplace. The economic impact is realized through direct treatment costs to the health care system as well as indirect costs, such as reduced or lost productivity due to absenteeism.

Mental health problems account for about half of employee absences due to illness each year in Canada for example, 3.5 days lost per employee per year are due to mental health problems. It is estimated that mental illness results in 35 million lost workdays each year in Canada.’

Employees living with mental health problems may feel and behave out of character at home and work. There may be feelings of things not quite right, yet they are unable to pinpoint the problem. Their co-workers, supervisors and family members may start to notice a change in mood and behaviour.

 

 Signs that indicate an employee or colleague may have a mental health problem are:

·      Regular late arrivals or often absent

·      Lack of teamwork or an over-all disinterest in working with co-workers

·      Lower output

·      Increased mishaps or safety problems

·      Numerous complaints of exhaustion or unexplained pains

·      Difficulty focusing, not being decisive or forgetting things

·      Making apologies for missed deadlines or poor work

·      Decreased attention or involvement in one’s work

·      Working excessive overtime over a prolonged period

·      Expressions of outlandish or grand ideas

·      Displays of irritation or pointing the finger at others

 

It is important to highlight that people behaving in these ways may be just having a bad day or week or dealing with a difficult situation in their personal life that may be temporary. A pattern that continues for a more extended period, however, may point to an underlying mental health problem.

 

Stress is a consistent part of life and work, and it can be positive or negative. Unwarranted hurtful stress through life events, including workplace issues, can contribute to mental health problems. Work itself can be expected to generate a certain level of stress associated with meeting deadlines and expectations, the need to feel valued and the loss of control over one’s time.

 

There are many causes of workplace stress. One key to effective stress management is maintaining awareness of the potential stressors and readiness to address them before they become problematic. Some of the most critical sources of work-related stress are listed below.

·    Poor communication

·    Incongruity in work demands, individual ability and amount of control over working practices

·    Work overload and work underload

·    Shift work and/or night work

·    Segregation, isolation and/or unstructured support for home workers

·    Short-term contracts

·    Role conflict, uncertainty and changing roles

·    The uneven weight assigned by management to consultation, support and control

·    Lack of training for managers in communication and people skills

·    Idleness

·    Uncomfortable physical workspace

·    Introduction of new technology, if not planned and gradual

·    The culture of presenteeism, in which an employee feels the need to be seen working at all times

·    Work-life imbalance

·    Home-based stresses that support or feed off of work-based stresses

 

Managing workplace stress can include training for employees to raise awareness about the causes and effects of stress, as well as to learn skills for coping with stress at work and in their personal lives.

 

Research has shown that some job stressors are worse than others, such as jobs that continuously involve imposed deadlines over an extended period and give individuals little control over the day-to-day organization of their work (high demand/low control). These jobs can lead to more than double the rate of heart and cardiovascular problems. As well as significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression and fell of being undermined. High demand/low control jobs also lead to substantially higher alcohol, prescription and over-the-counter drug use, and a significantly higher susceptibility to infectious diseases.’

 

Jobs that require high physical or mental effort but offer little in the way of compensation, status, financial gain or career enhancement (high effort/low reward) also affect employee stress levels. These jobs are associated with triple the rate of cardiovascular problems and significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and conflict-related problems

 

The health of workers does not have to be compromised by stress. Changes to the workplace can make for a more mentally healthy workplace, especially when employees feel adequately rewarded and have greater control of their work.

 

Mental health problems can seriously affect someone’s ability to work. If left untreated and the mental health problem worsens, the employee may need to stop working altogether.

 

On the other hand, employees may try to continue to work knowing that they are not performing to their usual standards. If mental health problems are acknowledged early, and proper treatment is obtained, most people can quickly return to their regular performance at work, and much unhappiness and suffering can be avoided.

 

Monika B. Jensen Ph.D
TEL: 905-683-9953

WEBSITE: www.aviarygroup.ca
PRINCIPAL
FAX: 905-683-9912

 

 

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The answers municipal governments have been looking for?

Municipal governments are facing multiple, growing, and overlapping challenges. Yet, there are tools available to address these challenges that are not being used to their full potential. Market-based policies such as well-designed user fees can help reduce traffic, cut water use, and improve solid waste management, while generating revenue that can be used to fill financial gaps.

These challenges include:

  • Municipal infrastructure is aging and faces a growing investment gap;
  • Municipalities have limited ability to raise revenues. Only so much can be raised from property taxes. They also often face constraints on debt financing; and
  • To attract people and investment, livability is key: cities must provide job and recreational opportunities, ensure affordability, make it easy to move people and products, and protect clean air and water.

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NetFore Systems upgrades its Municipal Staff Mobile Application to allowing staff to capture new issues & service requests on the fly while internet or data services are unavailable!

AccessE11, Ottawa, Canada

Home grow Canadian software developer Netfore Systems Inc., updated their popular AccessE11 Mobile Application to help increase productivity and reduce administrative paperwork for the municipal worker while in the field.

A long-standing problem that rural municipal workers face is the need for paper-based processes to record new issues or service requests while in the field because they too often have no data access. This is a productivity barrier that NetFore has addressed with the latest release of its popular AccessE11 cloud-based issue management software product and accompanying a mobile application.

“With previous releases of the AccessE11 solution, we significantly reduced the need for both municipal office and field staff to rely on paper to close the loop on managing citizen complaints and service requests”, says NetFore’s CEO Ken Workun, “however this did not completely solve the problem where a new issue is found by a work crew or a citizen raises an issue with a field worker directly”.

Understanding this issue, NetFore has introduced capabilities to add a complaint or service request from the AccessE11 mobile application even if the user has no data or internet access. “The real difference is the off-line functionality” comments Rene Villeneuve – NetFore’s Software Architect overseeing the project. “We made municipal issue management even easier by taking things one step further.  When an AccessE11 user’s mobile device acquires a data signal or attaches to a wi-fi network, any new cases are automatically uploaded to the AccessE11 database”.

For By-Law officer Nancy-Ann Gauthier, the new off-line case creation feature “means that I can do my full job while on the road even when I do not have a data signal… I liked the mobile App before, but I love it now!” In the town of South Stormont Fire Prevention Officer, Nick MacGillivray finds the ability to create cases while on the road saves time and helps when a call comes to in from a citizen who has an issue with a burn permit, “I now can create the case where ever I am,  in seconds, without having to go to the office or find a data signal”.  Blake Henderson – Public Works Superintendent at North Stormont knows that the AccessE11 mobile application has saved loads of time and “has increased staff productivity.”

 

This new feature is now available as a core feature for all AccessE11 Mobile Application users.

Visit AccessE11.com  to find out more.

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Communicating and Listening Non-Judgmentally: Tools for Dealing with Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

I am finding as I train, coach and mediate that the issues in the workplace are becoming more complex. In recent events, some high profile individuals have come to the attention of the media as a result of their actions. We are finding mental health issues are more of a concern and the means to address them is less easy. In this article, I am attempting to share some tools you may want to engage in when speaking with your colleagues or employees.

Communication is not just saying words; it is creating correct understanding. Active listening is an essential skill in the communication process. Dr Marius Pickering from the University of Maine identifies four characteristics of empathetic listening.

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Implementation of an Enterprise-wide Common Street Address Database for the City of Hamilton

Problem

The City of Hamilton has many service delivery applications utilizing and storing resident addresses. For example, street addresses are solicited from the resident in a free form method and are never validated against a common address database.  Thus, the City has numerous instances of address databases that are not accurate or consistent, which are used on a daily basis to communicate to the residents. In many cases, these address databases are misused and often invalid addresses cause breakdown of communications.  This has led to embarrassment for the City, anger by the residents and in some cases legal action.

Challenge

The challenge is to establish a single authoritative address database which all service delivery applications can valid against.  Establishing which is most correct and then comparing others to get the best of breed is the greatest challenge.  Other challenges are the adoption of a single authoritative database, “clean up” existing databases and encourage application stewards to use the single authoritative database as truth.

Resolution

The City engaged a subject matter expert to help collect business requirements, design a solution and implement this solution. The technical solution consisted of a consolidated database model, application database cleanup, address maintenance tool, redlining tool for identifying address issues and a method to deliver addresses to other service delivery applications.

Also a sustainability model to ensure that addresses were maintained accurately and on a timely basis by identified stewards. The address model would ensure that new or updated addresses would be available to other service delivery applications.

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Strategies to Overcoming Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias is hitting the news. From Bay Street to Main Street to Starbucks the impact of unspoken bias is real and harmful to the workplace. Bias stands in the way of making correct decisions in hiring and promoting. It also has a vital impact on your staff and the workplace in general. Let’s explore how we can become aware of our own bias and stop it in the workplace?

 

First, let’s define it. “Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education) 

 

We all have a bias. The question is, do we identify it and then what do we do about it? In addressing one of the most crucial training issues facing the workplace today, unconscious bias, employers can assist in creating an inclusive, civil and respectful workplace. 

 

Research indicates that unconscious biases are prejudices we have, yet are uninformed of. They are “mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes.” (Guynn, 2015). Biases can be based on skin colour, gender, age, height, weight, introversion versus extroversion, marital and parental status, disability status (for example, the use of a wheelchair or a cane), foreign accents, where someone went to college, and more (Wilkie, 2014). If you can name it, there is probably an unconscious bias for it.

 

Hence if we think we are unbiased, we may have unconscious adverse thoughts about people who are outside our own group. If we spend more time with people from other groups, we are less likely to feel prejudice against them.

 

This universal tendency toward unconscious bias exists because bias is rooted in our brain. Research shows that our brain has evolved to mentally put things together to make sense to us. The brain sorts all the information it is blasted with and labels that information with universal descriptions that it may rapidly access. When we categorize these labels as either good or bad, we tend to apply the rationale to the whole group. Many of the conclusions are taken from previous experiences and learnings.  

In an article, “The Real Effects of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace”, a few of the known unconscious biases that directly impact the workplace include:

  • Affinity bias is the tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.
  • Halo effect is the tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.
  • Perception bias which is the inclination to form stereotypes and assumptions about specific groups that make it awkward to make an objective judgement about members of those groups. 
  • Confirmation bias is the openness for us to pursue evidence that sanctions our pre-existing beliefs or experiences. 
  • Group think is a bias which occurs when people attempt to fit into a specific crowd by mirroring others or holding back opinions and views. This results in individuals losing part of their characteristics and causes workplaces to miss out on originality and creativity.

Horace McCormick’s research found more than 150 identified unconscious biases, making the task of rooting them out and addressing them daunting. For many organizations, however, identifying as many as possible and eliminating them has become a high priority.  

 

You can address discrimination issues by increasing your awareness of your unconscious biases, and by developing strategies that make the most of the talents and abilities of your team members. 

Unconscious behaviour is not just individual; it influences organizational culture as well. This explains why so often our best attempts at creating corporate culture change with diversity efforts seem to fall frustratingly short; to not deliver on the promise they intended.

 

What you can do: 

  • Be aware consciously of your bias 
  • Focus more on the people, on their strengths
  • Increase Exposure to Biases
  • Make small changes 
  • Be pragmatic 
  • Challenge stereotypes and counter-stereotypical information 
  • Use context to explain a situation 
  • Change your perception and relationship with out-group members 
  • Be an active bystander 
  • Improve processes, policies & procedures  

Also, managers can play a crucial role in unearthing these hidden biases by declaring their intentions to be non-biased. They can also provide transparent performance appraisals that emphasis on the employee’s exceptional abilities and skills, and grow a stronger mindfulness of their own unconscious principles.

 

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Dealing with Escalated Situations in Your Workplace

Resolving workplace conflict is an expected part of the job managers and Human Resource Practitioners. Whether you work in education, healthcare, human services, business, or any field, you might deal with angry, hostile, or noncompliant behaviour every day. Your response to the defensive reaction is often the key to avoiding a physical confrontation with someone who has lost control of their behaviour.

These ten De-Escalation Tips will help you respond to challenging behaviour in the safest, most efficient way possible.

  1. Be empathetic and non-judgmental
  2. Respect personal space
  3. Use non-threatening nonverbal communication
  4. Avoid overacting
  5. Focus on feelings
  6. Ignore challenging questions
  7. Set limits
  8. Choose wisely what you insist upon
  9. Allow silence for reflection
  10. Allow time for decisions

 

 To help you towards more efficient conflict de-escalation and resolution, the following basic steps can be followed:

  • Obtain the name of the person with whom you are speaking: People respond favourably to their own name. It also makes the conversation more personal. Ask for the person’s name early in the piece and use it throughout the discussion.
  • Use Active Listening: Clarifying, paraphrasing and using open-ended questions ensure that the individual you are speaking with knows you are aware of their situation and frustrations. Resaying a person’s own words back to them demonstrates that you have understood entirely what they were trying to say.       
  • Show support and suspend judgement: Empathy needs to be shown during conflict situations. Respecting the other person’s point of view even if you do not agree entirely will be the first step to resolving the conflict. 
  • Get them to agree and say yes: Having the person agree with you on general factual points leads the conversation towards a more favourable outcome. If you can show that you have understood their point of view by making clarifying statements you generate a state where the other person must reply with an affirmative response. The sooner you can get the person to say yes then sooner the conflict will de-escalate. It always works.
  • Avoid clichés: The worst of these being “Calm Down”. Did you ever notice how people who tell you to calm down are the ones who got you mad in the first place? Saying those words during a verbal conflict usually gets the classic retort “I AM CALM” very loudly usually with an animated hand gestures as well.       
  • Show empathy: You need to show compassion and understanding and give the conflict your full attention. Do not make impulsive decisions. Take the time to work through the problem.
  • Consistency in Courtesy: The person you are dealing with first thing in the morning deserves the same level of respect, civility and patience as the individual you are dealing with at 2 in the afternoon. They warrant the same high level of service and professionalism as the first person you spoke to. You need to maintain that position of positive brand ambassador and an excellent professional service.

There are many physical aspects of being mindful of in conflict situations. It is important always to be aware of features of conflict such as your body language, your emotions, your judgement, and your initial thoughts. Keeping these in mind is essential when trying to de-escalate a problematic situation.

Monika B. Jensen is the principal of the Aviary Group, consulting company that address workplace discord.  For more information, visit www.aviarygroup.ca

 

 

 

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The Cost of ARCHITECTURAL VISUALIZATION (or how long is a piece of string?)

Arch-Viz allows stakeholders to see or visualize architectural designs or property developments within their anticipated environment at the very early planning stages, well before the project is built.

It is an elastic term ranging from simple 2D hand drawings of a “sketch up” architectural model all the way to digitally created augmented reality where computer generated assets can be placed within a filmed environment and may include as much reality as is desired such as, for example: including spokespersons conducting a tour around or through the created environment; actual drone or simulated flying over or around the setting or environment including flying right through the interior with a full 360 view.

Developers and Architects know they would love to have high end dynamic visualizations of their new property concept as the benefits are obvious: finance is easier to attract, it will sell easier to prospective tenants; planning boards will approve quicker; and any objectors can hopefully be soothed into acceptance. Arch-Viz allows options in design, color, textures, orientations which is a luxury for a buyer or end-user to explore, to experiment, to be able to see before committing to the a project.

Digitally, there really is no end to what can be done as advance arch-viz studios use the same techniques as film and television visual effects companies and indeed many arch-viz studios started in that industry.

But for many projects costing in the hundreds of millions involving multiple diverse stakeholders there is a tendency to rely on a static model from Sketch up and then use Photoshop to make it “glamorous” – this image of the project, this rendering, and is usually just the one is used by the developer from city hall to the bank manager even though it is neither effective nor efficient.

Is there a fear of the cost of dynamic CGI renderings? Do bricks and mortar people view it as a soft marketing cost without any thought to the money saving benefits? How much is too much if it helps sell the building quickly; secure financing; obtain planning approval or appease concerned NIMBYS.

Asking point blank: “how much?” is not always fair!! Creating advanced dynamic 3D renderings is a labour intensive process. There are hundreds of questions needed to be answered: What Design? How big? Where? What materials? What assets do you already have? For who? Who is the audience?   It is like asking a home renovator: “how much to build a kitchen?” or asking an architect: “how much to design a building?” without any further details!

The task of an arch-viz studio is to manually create the assets (the building, the bridge, the apartment) which includes all the parts which go into it – so if you are showing what an apartment would like then generally all the contents therein need to be created by an artist. So that means labor and perhaps a lot of it. And these viz artists have gone to school for at least 2 years and need about 5 years of experience before they are good enough – and they know it and get paid accordingly!

While important to the determination of purchasing Arch-Viz, instead of solely asking “how much?” the Project Principal should be asking one simple question: “what is the experience we wish to create for the buyer or the end-user of our project?”. The more the project is meant to be an “experience” such as a lifestyle community, then the more dynamic 3D movement visualizations and renderings should be utilized to assist stakeholders in the decision making process.

What we can say about cost is that the simple 2D renderings/visualizations will generally be $1,000 .. when you add “movement” to the image then you double the cost; when you become within the image it doubles again and generally as you add more and more movement, you will be doubling the cost. Other services can be included to the presentation such as drone camera shots; script writing; professional actors; dramatic sound etc. In other words, when you start moving towards an infomercial or publicity videos you will then start paying as you would for a regular commercial.

Granted, high end 3D dynamic high end CGI renderings may not be necessary or appropriate for every project. However, each project should be looked at for its experience sought, the stakeholders priorities, project magnitude, time, and risk, and within that milieu subject arch-viz services to a cost benefit analysis. For many Planning Consultants and Architects then, it is straightforward that a fraction of a fraction of the overall budget should be spent on visualizing the development.

Arch-viz is an inexpensive way to decide how a project will look, and should look within the its planned environment as design changes are far easier and less expensive to make at the planning stage. Make no mistake, while arch-viz firms do try for “good, fast, cheap” it can be difficult to achieve and often, will only be two out of three, but as long as there is value, then it is not a bad compromise.

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Brian Simpson BBA, MBA, LLB

Principal at CityFX Inc. 42 Wright St., St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada     L2T 3J4        289.362.3139         www.cityfx.ca

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The Importance of City Website Design for Economic Development

The Importance of City Website Design for Economic Development

by Rickey Hayes (Retail Attractions, LLC)

 

If you’re reading this, chances are your city is looking to grow by increasing sales tax revenue through economic development. One way to grow your tax base is by recruiting retail development. One of the key components of successful recruitment is your city’s website. Most companies will start their retail site selection research on the internet, and each project will have its own set of unique parameters. It is not enough that your city meets these requirements. For your city to be selected as a possible location, you have to sell your city. Get the information out there and let the potential investors know what you have to offer. Your city’s website will more than likely be your first chance to make a good impression on the potential developer or investor. If your website is out of date or lacking in information critical to investors, your website presents an unorganized city that is not prepared to support growth. Progressive cities are recognizing the need to aggressively market themselves and create economic greenhouses in preparation for growth.

One of the most critical pieces of information for a city’s website is current demographics for your city and trade area. If your city has a unique trade area or unique demographics, site selectors need to be made aware of this information. Take this opportunity to showcase what your city has to offer. If incentives are available to potential developers, your website should provide information on these incentives especially if they are unique to your community. With so many cities competing for the same development projects, your city has to be aggressive in marketing its potential.

The organization and presentation of your city’s information is another key element in making your city attractive to potential developers. Information should be easy to find, up-to-date and thorough. Your website should convey that your city is ready and willing to work with developers on any issue that may arise. Each department should have their own page with direct contact information, and pertinent documents such as permits and standards should be clearly posted. This is your chance to show potential investors that your city is organized and ready to help make their development project a success.

Lastly, let’s discuss the most commonly overlooked element in municipal web design, search engine optimization (SEO). A website that has been optimized for search engine accessibility has content that is highly searchable and easily indexed. Having an optimized website is important when an investor is searching for information on potential sites. Optimizing your cities website will ensure investors find your official city website and the most relevant information when searching for details about your city.

To find out more about website design for your city, contact Retail Attractions.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities.
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