Select Page

The Past Matters

Turning the Wheel of Conflict

In mediation disputes the past does matter. Earlier this fall I wrote about the Wheel of Conflict, a concept introduced in a book written by Professors Bernard Meyer and Christopher Moore. In their analysis of conflict, a series of common themes interact with each other; some more heavily than others. Yet, they all play a part in the dynamics of a conflict.

Spin the wheel and the arrow will eventually stop on “history”. What does the history of the parties to conflict tell a mediator about the nature of that conflict? An experienced mediator knows that this is a key element in any conflict and it must be described and expressly recognized so that any decisions reached build important elements of continuity that have value in resolving the conflict.

People that view conflict through the prism of their experience in the business world can have a distorted understanding of how conflict is resolved. For many it is a problem that is taken outside the normal processes so that work can move forward. The fact that it is often moved outside of the normal processes sometimes results in people involved a conflict not having the opportunity to resolve underlying issues; which can color or adversely impact all future relationships involving the parties to the original conflict.

Sometimes the parties to a conflict stay involved all the way to the resolution, and still those underlying issues can remain unresolved. Add to this dynamic the reality that many companies, being sensitive to accountability and diligence concerns, choose binding arbitration which generally solves the immediate issues, but does little to address the root cause of the conflict in the first place.

Some conflicts are easier to resolve than others. Family feuds can last beyond an individual’s lifetime, and the damage can be incalculable. In business disputes the goal is to resolve the conflict in way that preserves the relationship so that the work can move forward without further disruption. They are not necessarily easier to resolve, but the simple fact that people’s careers and livelihoods are often on the line tends to focus one’s attention on search for ways to solve disputes in a business environment.

What the parties to the conflict need to know about the other party matters. Failure to understand the motivations and values of the other party(s) to the conflict will lead to assumptions about the other party that are almost always wrong. The drawing of conclusions will create negative biases that can impede or damage progress, delay resolution of the issues, and even bring about long-lasting harm to a business relationship.

The above cannot be overstated. Whether you Kellogg protecting a cereal brand, Mattel defending a line of dolls, or Oracle protecting its software, the battles are costly, time-consuming, and damaging to the reputations of both parties in these types of disputes.

Mediation is often the overlooked avenue that prevents conflicts from escalating to the point they become a legal precedent or a case study in business schools, and these outcomes are legacies most companies want to avoid.

Want to know more about prevent or mitigating business conflicts? Contact us at or by E-mail at We can also be reached by telephone at 832-452-8537.

I strongly support small business development. I do this through the Services Cooperative Association here in Houston. SCA helps people become successful business owners and entrepreneurs. If you work in Houston, Texas have breakfast with us at the Lakeside Country Club on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017. We will be hosting the 34th Annual Economic Forecast. Contact me for a ticket at a reduced price, or learn more about the event here.

The Hidden Snares

Before decisions comes the problem solving

I live and work in Houston Texas as do many of the people who read my letters and follow my blog. Many of you living here work for companies with a focus on or an involvement in oil and gas production. Others work in companies not related to oil and gas, but represent a number of other industries. No matter which industry, most of the companies over a certain size, have the following characteristics in common:

A compliance program conforming to the regulations and rules promoted by either the federal or state government.

An ethics policy

A credo stating the company’s foundational principles

Procedures and guidelines that incorporate clear standards of behavior

Training programs that direct managers and employees in understanding their obligations across a range of ethical issues.

For many companies these are important processes that go back decades. Companies spent tens of thousands of dollars to set up and implement these processes and spend thousands of hours and a significant amount of money each year managing these processes, analyzing and reporting on their adherence to and compliance with these requirements.

Last week I stood next to a client looking at a section of the Interstate that passes in front of his office about 100 yards away and some three stories below us. He noted that the real estate we saw in front of us had changed a lot in the 30 plus years he had been at that location, and that the way he did business had changed even more.

We had just finished a meeting where we were discussing some changes to the way his company approaches ethics training and it was a conversation that had some difficult moments for both of us because his company spent a lot of money to install and implement the processes that are in place and the training that supports it. He was still not convinced of the benefits to his operations.

As we stood there, I asked him to think about the fact that he and I are surrounded by companies that have all the above processes, including his company; all of them trying to get it right. Yet the landscape is dotted with companies that operate under a Consent Decree or Deferred Prosecution Agreement imposed by the Department of Justice because in spite of the above, they didn’t get it right.

That is the harsh reality of today’s compliance environment. It does not matter whether your company is in the oil & gas industry, banking, or retail, none of these processes and programs offer any level of certainty. Given the number of companies that fell short and paid sizable fines, and must now conduct their operations under the watchful eye of the government, the question becomes how to avoid being added to the list.  My client thanked me for giving him such a warm and fuzzy feeling and said that perhaps we did need to talk more on the ideas we discussed, and he invited me back in the New Year to talk more.

The people who manage and administer a company’s compliance program well appreciate the difficulties they work under.  For them it is a constant search for behaviors behind decision-making that do not conform to the standards, working to re-orient, and train managers and employees not to take the wrong action. Compliance professionals know full well that somewhere someone is taking a shortcut, intimidating an employee, or engaging in any number of actions that lead to unethical conduct, which if not corrected, will result in adverse consequences that are almost always severe and expensive.

Here at the Ethics Workshop, a division of CDCI we help our clients focus on the human factor behind these processes and procedures. In our presentations and training modules we look for ways to have conversations that promote an organic approach to ethics. To learn more please visit our website to view these offerings in more detail.

If you read my letter on a regular basis you know that I support those starting new businesses or looking to grow their business, and I offer that support through an organization called the Services Cooperative Association. The SCA is hosting an economic forecast on January 11, 2017 and the keynote speaker will be Mr. Chris Brown, Houston City Comptroller.  Also speaking is  Professor Sophi Haci of the economics department of Houston Community College who will give an overview of the Texas economy. It will the 34th year that SCA sponsors this event and I invite you to visit the announcement here to learn more about it and put it on your calendar.

Thought for the day and one of my favorites: “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” (John Wooden).