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Volume 7 | Issue 3

Putting it in context

A message from CDC Integrated Services, LLC

Inside the Foundation

Inside the Foundation

“…Since everything then is cause and effect, dependent and supporting, mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though imperceptible chain, which binds together things most distant and most different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.” (Blaise Pascal)

Many who make their living by speaking at public events, or in a training environment, use the idea of a building foundation as an analogy in their presentations.  Those who read articles or books of the nonfiction nature often use the idea of the foundation as a metaphor.  With some exceptions most of those using this idea either as an analogy or a metaphor don’t spend a lot of time talking about what goes into the foundation.  Their goal is to connect the foundation’s purpose with the idea or subject they want to convey.

However, what goes into a foundation does matter, and those who do not take sufficient time to understand what a given foundation needs run the risk of failing in that particular endeavor.  Anyone who drives through a neighborhood, or a commercial area and sees a house or commercial building being built knows that first the ground is prepared, and then the foundation is poured.  As we see the concrete going in we can’t know how the concrete was prepared, or what type of steel is used to reinforce the concrete.

This is because those responsible for laying the foundation prepared well in advance.  They identified the criteria necessary for that foundation, including but not limited to the technical specifications for the initial mix as well as the type and strength of the steel used.  The success of a foundation begins well before the concrete arrives at the construction site.

Everything important needs to be planned ahead of that first action.  The impact of that first step on the ultimate outcome can be directly measured by the effectiveness of the planning and ultimately the criteria selected. 

Before diving into the criterion necessary for successful conflict resolution, it is appropriate to visit briefly the issue of myths. In earlier articles, I noted that many myths exist about conflict in the workplace, and about conflict resolution in general. Other myths exist that affect how people view conflict in the workplace, and one of those enduring myths is the idea that conflicts, especially those in work environments, need to be managed. This notion of managing conflict endures for two reasons. 

The idea that conflicts in a business environment comes from the organization management side of things. Several organizational theories assert that organizational conflict can be managed using a number of steps and processes. One such theory states, in part, that:

“The management of organizational conflict involves the diagnosis of and intervention in affective and substantive conflicts at the interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup levels and the styles (strategies) used to handle these conflicts. A diagnosis should indicate whether there is need for an intervention and the type of intervention needed. 

In general, an intervention is designed (a) to attain and maintain a moderate amount of substantive conflict in non-routine tasks at various levels, (b) to reduce affective conflict at all levels, and (c) to enable the organizational members to select and use the appropriate styles of handling conflict so that various situations can be effectively dealt with. Organizational learning and effectiveness can be enhanced through an appropriate diagnosis of and process and structural interventions in conflict”. (Rahim, Garrett, & Buntzman, 1992)

As the saying goes, so good so far; however, when one delves deeper into these largely academic studies, you find the following is a fairly common conclusion….”1) There is no clear set of rules to suggest when conflict ought to be maintained at a certain level, when reduced, when ignored, and when enhanced, and 2) There is no clear set of guidelines to suggest how conflict can be reduced, ignored, or enhanced to increase organizational learning and effectiveness…”

When you step away from organizational theory, this idea of managing conflict is seen as a widely accepted idea. The problem one finds is that in any given organization, a company’s processes for addressing conflict revolve around Human Resource policies designed to get people to work together. It is often a subset of policies and practices that foster the building of interpersonal relationships in the workplace.

Managing conflict in this context becomes a pretext for managing differences using someone in the company to advocate for each person or group affected by the conflict. This idea is also sustained by many of the regulatory requirements that contain language about the meeting the needs of different stakeholders.  Placing the interests of stakeholders before concrete actions take place to resolve the conflict only serves to keep the respective interest intact; making conflict resolution secondary.

Many of us that are called on to assist in the resolution of conflict find this entrenched idea difficult to overcome because it is an objective built into many company procedures and policies, both explicitly and implicitly. 

From my perspective, I see this particular idea as a recipe that guarantees conflicts will endure, and my experience informs me many conflicts do not get resolved because the impatient, the uninformed, and the misguided insist on putting the horses at the back of the wagon. They want to jump into negotiate and compromise before any effort is made to build consensus, and they ignore basic steps that allow consensus to develop naturally.

How then do we identify criteria that advance the resolution of conflict?  In almost every case, three basic ideas need to be addressed as part of this process. 

Defining the criteria necessary for success begins with identifying what is achievable.

This first component is critical in that those most deeply involved in a conflict will almost always want more than what can reasonably be achieved; so the goal is to determine as accurately as possible what is possible.

Once the desired outcome is understood and agreed to, the pathway(s) to that outcome is described clearly and in sufficient detail that required actions are understood in terms of who does what and when. 

Additionally, the course of actions also need to be detailed in order to measure the results of actions taken such that the parties to the dispute can see progress toward the desired outcome. In parallel it is necessary to establish that existing policies and procedures both allow and support the actions agreed to and undertaken.

Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter to read more about achieving what can be achieved.

Food for Thought:  Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. (Aristotle)

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