Feudin’, fussin’ and a-fightin’

Posted by jlubans on November 21, 2017

I’ve been in a few feuds – not like how the 1948 hillbilly movie poster has it, but close.
Mine were office feuds that simmered and impeded, got in the way of progress, stymieing the best use of resources.
So, a BBC article about “feud consultants” or “peacemakers” - those who intervene in office feuds - reminded me of several that did not work out in a satisfactory way.
I could have done better.
Had there been a third party – a feud buster - a resolution might have happened.
What would I do differently?
Would it be better to follow an extreme solution like that suggested in the Wall Street Journal to “forget mediation, the silent treatment or even an awkward office shouting match.” And skip group hugs! Instead, put up your dukes and get in the boxing ring!
Or, more recently, the WSJ advises us of another conflict resolution strategy: “Forget trust falls. Indoor ax throwing has become the latest way to bond with colleagues.” Intriguing! Compete alongside your office “enemies” in tossing dangerous objects into a wooden target!
Fun, maybe but not for me.
I know that team building activites do work - however indirectly - but some situations demand direct action to address and resolve personal conflict.
In my case, I wish someone (me!) had said, “Look this is not going anywhere, it is bad for the organization, we have got to clear the air. Would you (the other aggrieved party) be willing to work with me to resolve our differences?”
(Conflict resolvers say the key phrase in this statement is "would you be willing?")
But before asking that of the other person, I need to answer some questions about my role in the conflict.
Why do I see that other person as an enemy, as someone who seeks to undermine me?
Why does the other side think of me the same way?
Why do I believe this other person is working to frustrate what I hope to achieve?
Why does the other side think that of me?
You can appreciate just how difficult this conversation could be!
So, a third party intervention makes good sense. But, finding that third party is not easy.
Most Human Resources (HR) specialists are not really neutral. I have met only two who commanded respect as being fair and effective in resolving disputes.
Those two had an internal strength or internal compass that helped overcome long-term personality clashes without their getting sucked into the conflict.
Those two were Solomon-like in how they perceived and dealt with differences.
In my line of work, conflict is rarely addressed openly. Avoidance and accommodation are the preferred methods – as in many other industries - of dealing with conflict, so little changes.
Compromise is celebrated as an achievement! Yea, we won a little!
You get a little, they get a little and the problem is half resolved.
We kid ourselves into believing we have achieved all we can achieve.
If people remain closed, then the win-win of open collaboration (good ideas competing and melding into one best solution) is beyond reach.
Instead, we “compromise” and we settle for something less.
In my experience, my “problem people” – and there were several - were often self-centered, only looking out for themselves, none for all. If they were on a team, guess who had to be the captain?
For them, everything came down to “Me, first”, or so I thought.
I wonder what they thought of me?
Really, as I look back, a feud buster would have been a plus, for no other reason than to get me talking with the “enemy”.
Instead, each of us was articulate in blaming, sotto voce, the other for the sorry situation.
Funny, in a bitter way. I knew I had to have a frank talk with the other person but I did not; I went off and did things, kept busy.
I avoided, ignored, for years and then it was too late. I went on doing stuff and now, well I am here and they are there.
No, I am not going to call them on the phone and tell them I love them anyway!
No, having that talk would have made all the difference. Not having that talk has made all the difference.
Fables for Leaders would be a perfect Christmas gift for the thoughtful leader and/or the thoughtful follower. Beautifully illustrated and designed. Several vendors offer the book. Click on the cover image above to link to Amazon.

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© Copyright John Lubans 2017
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