Unlike like the common cold, Conflict doesn’t go away on its own

You idiot: I said no sugar in my coffee!

Working as a management consultant is like being a glamour model. I get to go to all the exotic locations. For example, only last week I was devouring a toasted Ham & Cheese Special in Toughers Service Station in sunny, downtown Newbridge. I won’t go on and on about it; jealousy is a terrible thing to behold!

Black Vs White: I was on my way to mediate a conflict between two senior executives whom we will call Mr. Black and Ms. White (not their real names – more their orientation). Just the previous day, I’d designed a workshop to be run in the USA to help 2 ‘sister sites’ negotiate becoming mutually supportive rather than destructive (the reality in the multinational sector is that there is usually more competition from sister sites than from the external market).

Conflict Grows: Unlike the common cold, conflict doesn’t disappear on its own. In fact, it usually gets worse and small spats can turn into an influenza of grief for the parties concerned. As a senior executive, your job is to spot sources of conflict and intervene smartly. But, some executives are not quite sure where to start, perhaps not believing that you can make headway. One General Manager said to me recently: “Isn’t trust like virginity? You only lose it once”. I understand the sentiment, but it’s not quite as straightforward. There can be a ‘cure’ even where relationships are problematical and trust levels are lower than the Irish soccer teams score against Spain.

Rebuilding Trust: I was recently involved in a project where a large supplier of services and a key client had ‘fallen out’. It was not a single, dramatic event. More a succession of small issues that built up over time. Net effect = the client was pushing business to competitor companies and the revenue for the supplier was diminishing. So, how do you break this cycle? A key starting point in intervening is to allow each ‘side’ to really understand the relationship. Usually they want to tell me chapter and verse about what’s broken and, for sure this is important. But alongside this, I push them to focus on what’s working really well. This has two upsides. Firstly, it allows each side to feel appreciated (I’ve said it many times:the world market for positive feedback is not saturated). It’s the organization equivalent of telling someone at a performance management meeting that they are doing well on A, B & C but you want them to address D. If they believe that you are sincere about the A, B & C – your chances of getting movement on D are much higher. Secondly, it allows both parties to keep the overall relationship in perspective. If 98% of stuff is going well, don’t become fixated on the 2% that’s broken. For sure underperformance needs to be addressed and none of us should accept shoddy service. But the mythical 100% relationship with suppliers often does not exist and an expectation of perfection can be a recipe for disappointment.

Common Issues: There are a range of ‘tool’s which can be deployed in this space and I have been ‘stealing shamelessly’ for years – tapping into the best ideas which exist worldwide (some of these are detailed on our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie if you have an appetite for this stuff). The overall direction is to move the parties into a position where they see a real upside in fixing the relationship. And both have to be willing to compromise and move their position – unlike the old tagline: ‘When it comes to giving, some stop at nothing’.

Bottom Line: In the South Sea Islands they use the word ‘Mokita’. This represents the truth that everyone knows and no one speaks. In many organizations, destructive conflict is tolerated. Everyone knows that it’s there, but no-one is willing to confront this. Don’t swim away from conflict in your organization because it is socially awkward or makes you feel personally uncomfortable. Have the guts to intervene and do something to move it forward. Isn’t that what you are paid to do? You can’t swallow the executive salary & perks but only deliver on the parts of the job that you like. Take it on. And, you might well find, that this stuff is easier to fix than you think. Just don’t let that information get out. Someone has to keep consultants in the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to!

Paul Mooney

PS: The following list might make you smile:

ONLY IN AMERICA. . . . . .

1 Can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.
2. Drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the shop
to get prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at
the front.
3. People order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet
Coke.
4 They buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of
eight.
5. They have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering.

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact paul@tandemconsulting.ie and we will add them to the mailing list.

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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