Those of us who have been involved in conflict, which is to say all of us, know that resolving issues early, while they are relatively simple is a great approach that is too often not applied. We avoid conflict and confrontation and hope things will get better. Sometimes they do. Often they do not and instead grow more and more complex.
While every conflict is unique, it is important to structure the resolution process to work through the issues in a systematic way that fosters a sustainable solution. Often the issues in partnership conflict share two common themes: contribution and control.
The “presenting issue”, the issue that brings partners to seek resolution, is often a function of control in a partnership. How do those involved perceive their relative power in this situation? Often this is based on the view of contributions both to the partnership and business overall, including the roles and history of previous decisions and how these contributed to the business’ success, or lack of success. In order to effectively address these, those involved have to have a workable view of their relationship. The partners will be ultimately responsible for the resolution of their conflict so it is important to start at the relationship level, work on communication, and then work through other components to get to the specific issue that is confronting them.
We are often asked if there are situations that cannot be resolved through mediation. Mediation is generally not effective when those involved have absolutely no interest in their relationship with the other partners. This structure illustrates why this is the case. The relationship is the top layer in getting to underlying issues and if it is not workable, if only on some basic level, it is very, very difficult to move effectively to underlying issues. Relationships are sometimes very badly damaged by the time we are engaged to help, but even in these cases there is some underlying desire not to see the relationship in total ruin, often out of respect for what was built together in spite of the current situation. The comparison to spouses in a divorce is hard to resist. Sometimes there is still mutual respect but a recognition that things are not working in both marriages and partnerships. Partners need to know that their contributions are acknowledged and that those contributions provide them with some control over what happens in their partnership.