Category Archives: Conflict Resolution

Rebuilding Relationships


At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

The Clarity of Power

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell, recently issued fines and suspensions related to the “Bountygate” scandal that are unprecedented in league history in terms of their severity and scope.  Goodell’s strong action has given me pause to reflect on the clarity that power — when used prudently but decisively — can bring to an organization, providing both direction and calm.


In early March, the media began to report that a 3-year internal investigation by the NFL revealed the New Orleans Saints had offered “bounties” (cash bonuses) for injuries caused to opposing players.  A week or so into the media storm, Mr. Goodell announced suspensions and fines including: Saints general manager, 8 games; Saints head coach, Sean Payton, the entire 2012 season; and former Saints defensive coordinator, Greg Williams, indefinitely (but at least one year).  All were suspended without pay (in Payton’s case, costing him most of his $7.5 million annual salary).

When the news came out, you could hear the proverbial “pin drop” from the immediate shock. There was no doubt who was in charge, whether he was serious or not, and what was or was not acceptable in the league anymore.  Mr. Goodell had made very clear what wasn’t up for debate.

Closer to Home

I recently observed something in my own organization that brought home a similar point about the prudent use of power.  Continue reading

Constructive Conversations … Not Fierce Ones

In recent years, there has been widespread interest in books recommending “fierce” or “difficult” conversations. While these best-sellers offer many excellent communication tips, I worry that some of their most enthusiastic adherents can seem more eager for the “fierce” (i.e., “confrontational”) part of the concept than the “conversation” (i.e., mutual, respectful exchange of ideas) part.  As a brief anecdote involving two former colleagues illustrates,  “fierce” and “constructive” aren’t necessarily the same thing.

A Tale of Two Colleagues

“Colleague A” is fiercely bright, passionate about a wide range of subjects, and eager to engage in stimulating debate to help focus and fine-tune his ideas and theories.  He feels morally compelled to question approaches to problems until rigorous, high-quality answers and results are achieved – all to the good. Not surprisingly, he is a strong proponent of “fierce” conversations.  Also not surprisingly, this can overwhelm those who don’t share exactly his same sensibilities (i.e., almost everyone else).  He is known to Continue reading