Friday, 21 March 2014

Dealing with Conflict

I had an email from an old client (I mean a client I worked with a while ago rather than a client who is very aged...) in response to my last post (see here).

His point was that it's all very well to talk about avoiding conflict - what should his firm do now that conflict is firmly embedded? I so enjoy it when client give me the opportunity for a sales pitch, I thought I would repeat what I said here.

If you have offices, partners, departments, divisions or individuals who are engaged in conflict and where some of the easy things haven't worked (and one of the most tired methods that I have seen is the Managing Partner, or Head of Chambers, saying to both "Can't you just get along?") then the time has come to call in an outsider. This can be a trained mediator, or another trusted voice.

The role of this person is really to be the adult in the room. Most conflict is based around non-adult behaviour. We all do it - reacting to a jibe and some time later responding with "...but he started it". All very childlike behaviour. The ideal is to move to an adult-adult discussion - from the childlike-childlike that categorises most personal conflict in organisations. Expecting one of the warring partners to assume the adult role in the face of childlike responses is perhaps too much - after all, if one of them was able to do this, they would probably have done so already.

The 'outsider' can nudge both parties towards more adult responses and, slowly but surely, bring a grown-up end to the conflict. It is important to point out that the end to the conflict is likely to be based around a compromise - and compromise is that comforting feeling that the other person has been done over as badly as you.

This process does not, however, work every time. Sometime the parties are so entrenched that there is no way back. At that point the solution is drastic - one partner must leave (the lowest earning of course), or a department closed, or an office shut. So it's probably worth trying a few other things first, then...

Here comes the sales pitch: I'd be delighted to help and to be the adult in the room. Please just get in touch - click here for my contact details.

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