Conflict and disputes inside an organisation (or between organisations) can generate huge amounts of stress: different people take different positions on an important subject and it doesn’t seem possible to resolve the arguments using logic or rationality. Because the issues are wrapped up in the personalities of the people involved, discussions become emotionally charged – something that businesses have difficulty in coping with. Businesses that have been effective in the past can be frozen into inaction, or even destroyed.
Resolving Conflict is clearly a complex subject. It is not capable of being dealt with via a quick fix.
Our chapter on difficult relationships covers some of the ground by providing clues on what we can do to minimise the uncomfortable relationship noise that emerges between ourselves and others who have a different outlook on life. Our chapter on persistent problems describes the most difficult business problems – those when business logic and human logic get entangled, and provides an insight into how organisations can start to get unstuck.
In this chapter we will move from the general to the specific – in other words, how a particular conflict issue can be resolved. This could be a commercial negotiation, a disagreement on strategy at board level, or a direct conflict between individuals that needs to be mediated. The dynamics of resolution are exactly the same as those that would apply when negotiating a treaty between warring countries. They rely on the intervention of a skilled person, independent of the conflict, who can apply a set of proven techniques in order to unlock the situation and move towards resolution.
The elements of a severe conflict are important to the participants, who have usually become deeply entrenched within their current positions. So expecting any form of conflict resolution to produce a magic pill that instantly makes everyone happy is unrealistic. But every dispute contains the code for its own resolution. The most secure lock is capable of being opened with the right mechanics and expertise. A structured approach that applies discipline and finely-tuned listening skills can decipher and resolve even the most deadlocked conflict.