Wars, conflict – it’s all business

“Dudley’s prices are ridiculous,” said Joe, “I can buy better quality animals at a lot less, including transport, from Solly in Middelberg.” “Rubbish,” responded Dudley, “Our animals are younger and of far superior quality. We deliver them to your door, and give you 30 days to pay. I can get my prices from any butcher in town.”

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I was listening to our farm butchery manager arguing with our beef production manager – both guys working for the same company, each responsible for the profit performance of their sections. It was ridiculous. We produced the animals, finished them in the feedlot and slaughtered them in an abattoir less than a kilometer from the butchery, and here I had these two managers refusing to do business with each other. Ever had a similar experience? We’re surrounded by conflict. It happens every day in every corner of the globe, in our businesses and in our families, but when it comes to dealing with it we’re on our own. Lessons in conflict resolution are hard to find, and yet the skill to deal with it is vital for good management. Let’s have a look at a toolbox for successful and lasting conflict resolution between parties.

Provide a reality check:
Sketch the downsides of not settling the dispute, both business and personal, like money lost and personal risk. Illustrate the advantages of settling: more profit; better bonuses for everyone; respect for their ability to settle differences.

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Focus on the problem, not the person:
Don’t get bogged down in the “he said, she said” kind of debate. It’s not productive. Ask them what they’d like to see happen and facilitate a discussion about how to get there. Emphasise points of commonality and offer praise for finding these points.

Don’t dictate solutions:
It’s tempting to tell the parties what to do, but such a solution will be short-lived. If they achieve agreement themselves, chances are they’ll abide by it.

Tone down the aggression:
Angry people don’t listen to one another. Your role is to ensure they hear each other’s point of view. Get each one to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. When trying to achieve this mutual understanding, anger is the enemy.

Guard your neutrality:
Adopt a neutral tone; watch your body language; give each party the same amount of airtime.

Document the outcome:
Summarise the outcome of the meeting and get each party to sign the document.

This often-ignored step is vital to the process. Set an agreed date for a meeting within the next month. There, review the summary of the outcome and if there’s still tension between the parties, set a further follow-up date. If, after you’ve been through this process of conciliation, there are still irreconcilable differences which will damage the interests of the business, you have no option: one of the managers will have to go. Contact Peter Hughes on (031) 745 7303 or e-mail [email protected].