I’ve spent over thirty years starting, building, and running successful businesses. These have included manufacturing, wholesale, retail, and consulting operations, several of which traded internationally.
It is in retrospect that I realise the cumulative effect of mismanaged conflict through those decades. Reduced productivity, waste, demotivated staff, restructuring around problems, lost opportunities, absenteeism, and lowered presenteeism are only a few of the symptoms.
The knock effects like re-training, staff replacement, or insurance premium increases were never consciously linked to the mismanagement of conflict. Systemic consequences of unmanaged conflict, like brand damage or poor customer service, were utterly unquantifiable and often responded to using incorrect assumptions.
The modern and far better way of dealing with conflict is to manage it in ways that unlock value. If wastage is reduced through the resolution of disputes and creativity is generated that sparks innovation, then productivity increases and countless benefits flow from that.
Ancient fight or flight responses to clashes are no longer necessary for survival. Those responses begin with the settlement of disputes based on power, typifying a command-and-control approach that is dying. That evolved into agreement based on rights or rules. Rights-based conflict resolution generates win / lose outcomes in which the parties have little chance to collaborate and come up with their solutions, resulting in sub-optimal performance.
It is outcomes that are based on interests and needs [with little attention to rights, policies, or procedures] that are durable, sustainable, and motivating; all vastly better for the organisation.
It is within this “interests based zone” that opportunity exists. Leaders that recognise this as a strategic competitive advantage are building cultures and systems that reward conflict competence to drive productivity improvements.
Collective conflict wisdom begins with training to produce a ‘critical mass’ of conflict understanding, and the ability to have Brave Discussions. This is the foundation for resolving conflict as early as possible and at the lowest level – by the people involved. Specialised training such as managerial mediation follows – essential tools to equip managers and supervisors to keep disputes from deteriorating to rights driven solutions, where productivity, continuity, and motivation diminishes.
Because these opportunities are so clear, I embarked on a journey to study dispute settlement at postgraduate university level and became an accredited mediator and trainer in workplace conflict management. I also spent time at many organisations that have established integrated conflict management systems, learning from experiences within their structures and their cultures.
Practical experience and street-smarts, rather than academics and theory, makes this training practical and effective. It took me nine months to write the course. I did it in a way that I would have wanted my workforces to have been trained.
I have made it my mission to work with organisations to extract full value from conflict.