In many organizations, the anticipated fear of doing something that might not work when resolving a conflict outweighs the anticipated benefits of taking a risk and resolving a conflict in a new way.
This anticipated fear shows up in four areas.
Many organizations assume that immediacy of response in all four of these “dispute” areas equals resolution. The problem “goes away” and then there is silence—from the press, from the customer, from the stakeholders, and from the employees. This assumption exists because organizations operate at scale. Scale creates degrees of separation between the person impacted by the outcome of the interaction, the incident, the innovation or the conflict, and the person who is “at the top” of the hierarchy in the organization.
As human beings, from the age of tribes to the age of multinational organizations, we have outsourced the resolution of conflicts to third parties—chiefs, in essence—with the expectation that with distance comes freedom from emotional entanglement and rationality in decision making. When the chief knew everyone in the tribe, this might have been—and may continue to be—true. But when Dunbar’s Number kicks in at scale, and organizations begin to grow, more and more resolution is outsourced to fewer and fewer people who are called to sit in judgment, render a verdict and not consider the consequences.
The unspooling of the Industrial Revolution and its outcomes and consequences, at scale, has put to lie, the myth that was promulgated through mass media, mass advertising, mass unionization, and even mass government: The individual, whether employee, customer, neighbor or advocate, can get resolution to conflict at scale.
All conflicts, interactions, incidents, disturbances, and any other synonyms humans use to describe conflicts and disputes are always interpersonal, and thus can only be resolved at the interpersonal level. But many organizations—schools, nonprofits, businesses, corporations—only function well and “change the world” at scale, rather than in interacting with one person, employee, customer, neighbor or advocate, at a time.
The solution for this is not to prevent organizations from scaling. This is as impossible as canceling biological maturation or natural growth. The deep solution is for the chief to purposefully change attitudes and minds at the individual level through coaching, training, and leading, and then leaving a culture in an organization behind that repeats the vision, mission, values and goals that they want to see.
This is the real innovation that requires courage at the beginning, the middle and the end to execute. But many organizations would rather put out burning fires than build a better house in the first place.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org