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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.