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I truly hope that you and your families are still keeping well and safe at this time.

Today I would like to continue with a third trend that has been lurking around in our businesses for decades, namely systemic conflict. To explain what I mean by this term, let me give you a classic example – conflict between the sales department and the production department: sales keep selling (okay, so this is a pre-pandemic example!) and production can’t keep up; and both blame the other. The conflict can be overt or covert, more often both.

The truth is we often know at some level that we are creating conflict, but we play the blaming game. Having at least played a role in creating the conflict, we are notoriously terrible at dealing with it. We literally flee, fight or freeze – oh, and let’s not forget another favourite, passive aggression.

Of course, a lot of us have a fear of conflict, for whatever reason. But isn’t it time we got real? In an age of disruption, disruptors are going to create conflict, and whether that conflict or disruption turns out positively or not is largely due to how we respond to it.

Sometimes, of course, we espouse democratic cultures for our organisations where we encourage people to exchange their views and when they do, and conflict arises, we are not too sure what to do with all the views on the table. It goes something like this: we are socialized as we grow up to make ourselves right and other people wrong; then we enter this democratic environment and we brainstorm views; then, we hit a cul-de-sac where we don’t know what to do with all the views and so we either look for a compromise (where we all lose something) or we go back to making ourselves right and others wrong. Or both! (And, again, we all lose something!)

So, what should we do about this (apart from fighting, fleeing or freezing)? I think every discussion of this sort – and this goes for meetings too – consists of at least three elements: purpose, process and content (I really looked hard to make that 3 P’s!) and that we get carried away with content and forget the other two elements. If we were more conscious of the purpose of the discussion and the process we are engaged in, we can use every discussion as a touchstone for learning and improvement. We could, for example, ask questions like: “Aren’t we losing sight of the purpose?” “We seem to have three opposing views here; how can we use them to achieve the outcome that is in the best interests of the business?” And at the end: “How can we do this even better next time?”

After all, shouldn’t we all – and that includes sales and marketing – be working together in the best interests of the business, including the business’ stakeholders?

Next week I will be looking at another pre-pandemic trend that is also now biting us.

Until then, keep safe and well.

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