There’s an African proverb which says that when you put two axes in one basket they will inevitably clash.
When translated, it means that when any two or more individuals or parties, of independent thinking and varying interests work together, they will no doubt run into disagreements. I start by quoting this proverb to show that conflict has been and will always be a part of everyday life; be it at a personal, business or political level.
This knowledge is not rocket science, but is common sense to the simplest of minds. It therefore defeats logic, when we are witness to long and drawn out leadership wrangles that make us want to bash our heads at the lack of sensibility by these corporate heads.
In the end, it is the basket (read company) that suffers the most damage as a result of the grinding axes (read personalities). As is currently playing out in the business world, the company and its leaders suffer a loss in credibility and consequently, a loss in financial value at the stock market because it has stopped trading, or at a business level, because no partners want to be associated with a company that airs its dirty linen in the limelight.
In my opinion, the true test of leadership is not how one guides a company or a country in good times but in tough times when faced with opposition at every turn. While it may be too late for the companies already appearing in our local headlines, I’d like to think that it is not too late to learn a lesson for other companies, listed and otherwise, who may be going through similar challenges.
When confronted by what appears to be insurmountable conflict, consider these suggestions when you come to the negotiating table.
First, I find it most beneficial to establish a common end goal. This end-goal will then determine the parameters under which dialogue will take place. For example, if you value the relationship in the business partnership most and the end goal is to preserve that relationship, you will find that you will consciously and unconsciously set parameters that are based on mutual respect and are mindful of the welfare of all parties involved.
If the financial incentives are what matter most, then you will approach the disagreement with a view to arriving at a financially beneficial place. In this case, you may need to call in financial auditors and advisors to settle the matter with civility.
When you do not agree on an end-goal, what typically happens is that all parties are driven by individual victory and do not care, at what cost they win. When they come to the negotiating table, they approach it with daggers drawn and react negatively and violently at the slightest provocation. Such reactions are not only harmful to the individual parties, but also to the company as a whole.
Secondly, as a leader… it is imperative that you approach the issue from two different perspectives. You must ask yourself two important questions i.e. what is it that I stand to gain from pursuing my personal victory? And vice versa, what is it that I stand to lose when I take that hardline stance that assures me of my personal victory?
I would even advise that you take a piece of paper and list these perceived gains and losses, as you would pros and cons, argued from a financial, social, and spiritual angle. Having done that, proceed to review your answers based on your value system, both at an individual or company level.
Ideally, what this does is to take out of the equation the reactions that are based on emotions and not merit and enable you to clearly and rationally identify what is of most importance to you as you attempt to resolve the conflict.
Both these suggestions say that you are dealing with the conflict like an adult and send a clear message that you care about the interests of the company as a whole. They demonstrate that you have identified a problem, are not hell bent on finding someone to blame but are taking responsibility for whatever role you may have played in the conflict.
These are expressions of good faith and when people feel less vulnerable with us, they are willing to let their guard down too… hence opening up the way for deliberation.
However, this may not always be possible.
Sometimes you may encounter the non-negotiable partner who may yield a greater deal of power than you do. Because you do not come to the table as equals, that partner is regrettably able to hijack the conversation and to influence others to go along with him even when the solution does not serve the interests of all equitably. The problem with such skewed discourse is that one party is inevitably left feeling like they lost. Eventually, these negatively feelings fester and show up again in a renewed or completely different conflict.
In such a case, it may be wise to bring in a mediator. This is a neutral third party who assists the different parties to arrive at an agreement, to compromise and achieve a win-win scenario. The mediator does not dictate the solution, but facilitates all parties to communicate effectively and to arrive at what is their middle ground.
Finally, when all else fails… spare us the drama and the sideshows. Invoke the clauses in the company’s Memos and Articles of Association and follow them to the letter. You may also seek the assistance of relevant authorities like the CMA and the courts to help resolve the conflict. However, let the arbitrator do their work and the process run its course without yielding undue influence.
This is the way to resolve conflict with wisdom; there is no need to tear the company or country down, just because you are not getting your way.