How to Effectively Deal with Conflict

People Stock PhotoYou are in conflict personally and professionally every moment. How you effectively you deal with those conflicts determines your future success, support, and opportunities.

I am in conflict every day. While I get angry, judgmental and afraid, I set my intention on how I choose to effectively deal with conflict.

Here is an excerpt from a note to my family that I sent two days ago;

“… My strong recommendation to you is that when you get into a position like this (under attack by lawyers, media, spouse or anything), stay in your values and intention. My intention is to resolve this conflict in ways that are respectful, transparent and fair. And do it in ways that invite the others to minimize costs and time. Worst case, if I do end up in court, I will have done my best and will be judged accordingly. I will not drop my expertise and values. …Why not stay in control and let the adversarial system starve? While I wanted to defend myself, react, and judge last night, I know I have a better probability of achieving my objectives by staying with my values and intentions…”

Several times each year, I get a call from a company requesting that I “tell the other side they are wrong.” I will not do that. I will guide both sides to new perspectives, understandings, and possibilities. We are human. We get very frustrated. We’ve done the right thing, we’ve played by the rules, and now we’re being screwed. We react, threaten, avoid or look for a hired gun. There are more effective ways to deal with conflict.

In my 42 years in business, I’ve worked with petroleum and natural gas companies, renewable energy companies, not for profits, mining companies, tourism companies, healthcare companies, communities in conflict, and more. In company to company or organizational conflicts, no matter what the industry, our emotion-led brains, and boardroom conversations, often move us to anger, frustration and then litigation into court. And the resulting damage can be high.

At times, power struggles inside an organization are the greater threat to effectively dealing with disputes. Leaders and those around them add fuel to the smoldering fire. In Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff relates the power politics within the White House where, reportedly, the President of the United States is only interested in having his ego stroked. “One of the things we have to count on is that Donald Trump will attack.” The powerful triumvirate around Trump (Bannon, Jared/ Ivanka, and Priebus) appear focussed on only one priority; destroying the influence of the other two.

Fire and Fury

Think about whom your organization acts like a Banon, Jaranka or Priebus. Will you have the courage to have that difficult conversation?

Difficult Conversations

Stay in control. Don’t lose control to the other party. Don’t let internal politics destroy value. Don’t let the bad guys win. Don’t let the court system drain you. Don’t let arbitrators, mediators, negotiators drain you. Stay in control.

Here are some of the reasons that we get into conflict. These are things that I’ve explored in my workshops. Well, obviously the technical merits of a dispute and varying interpretations of the agreements, that’s one. Another reason we get into conflict is a lack of interest, or even getting the other side to make this a priority. The other party just doesn’t want to get invested in this, it’s hurting us, but they figure that they can delay, or bully us and we’ll just give in. Not a chance. We’re not giving in. Not a chance. That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.

Well, we’re also all very busy, busy, busy. This is busyness. It’s a crime to be too busy to make money, too busy to do the right thing, and too busy to innovate. But if we don’t have the time to fully evaluate the probability of success, the associated value or risks, how do we negotiate and resolve the conflict? We’re losing control because we’re too busy, we’re not focused, we’re not attending to.

Of course, insufficient or lack of resources to properly develop our position. We don’t have legal counsel or other expertise, we don’t have a mediator, we don’t have – well, our negotiating skills could be better, let me put it that way. Any of those things resonate with you?

What tactics do you typically use if the dispute doesn’t get resolved? Think about that. What do you do? When a dispute didn’t go the way you wanted, yet you knew you were right, what did you wish you had done differently to change the outcome? What did you wish that you did differently to change the outcome?

It’s, I know, it’s frustrating. I’ve dedicated a lot of my 42-year career to getting parties to work together better, to resolve their own conflict, not lose control. Back in 2002, we found that companies in the oil and gas industry in Canada were increasingly in conflict. Increasingly wasting their time and resources. And some of the processes and practices in the industry rewarded bad behavior.

Over three years, 100 volunteers over a four-year period formed the Company 2 Company Dispute Resolution Council. Guess what? All those professional negotiators, engineers, accountants, MBAs, engineers, litigators, mediators, arbitrators, all those folks we put together a handbook on how to resolve company to company conflict, techniques, processes, skills, abilities. We put in this handbook and guess what we called it? Let’s TalkLet’s Talk. It can be as simple as that.

If we’re too busy to do anything other than text or email, how on Earth are we going to negotiate? That’s one of the things we can change, just let’s talk. Get outside, go for a half an hour walk with that party, explore it. If you want to find out more about our Company to Company Dispute Resolution Council, go to

Company 2 Company Dispute Resolution

So, what is the council? Well, it’s an organization that can help you get the tools and resources to manage conflict effectively without losing sight of your bottom line. Are you wondering how to get through a challenging negotiation? Well, contact us, we can help you. Do you need some different strategies to improve your business partnerships?

There are many ways that we look for appropriate dispute resolution. Not alternate, but appropriate. I think going to court is an alternate, but it’s not the only way, and I’ll talk about this a little bit in a minute. My focus is getting you in charge, keeping your costs under control and maximizing your opportunities.

When we talk about how do you go from a failed negotiation to court you’ve skipped across all the opportunities. We’re going to talk a little bit about a situation assessment meeting, there’s also mediation, arbitration, litigation, many opportunities. We need to be more aware and conscious of the choices we’re making rather than letting our reptilian brain do that for us. A great new resource is;

How Emotions Are Made

Let’s talk about avoidance. In conflict and negotiation, avoidance is very predominant. All of us want not to be in that conflict. It’s stressful. The hair goes up on the back of my neck, I get angry. Often there’s a power imbalance. You might have all the tools and money and resources that you can beat me up or take advantage of me of outlast me or our litigate me. Failed negotiation happens too often.

In my five book series Break Through to Yes, I say collaboration is not an event, it’s a culture. It’s how we work together. It’s the same for negotiation. Oftentimes business people think of negotiation as a one-time event. That negotiation is part of your brand, your reputation, how people can trust you. In my 42-year career, there have only been two individuals where I say I would never negotiate with them again. And there’s probably a dozen negotiators where I’d say I trust them completely, I would let them negotiate the deal on their own without me. And then there’s a whole mix in between.

We’ve got growing costs, growing timelines, growing uncertainty. It is personal. Disputes are personal. We’ll talk about techniques and practices in a moment, but right now let’s talk about some percentages. Let’s talk about 50%, 25%, 5% and less than 1%. What does that mean?

Well, in my time in oil and gas in Canada and the United States, for some periods of time I found that the court system and the regulatory processes, like the Alberta Energy Regulator and others, what they find is about 50% of the disputes that went in front of their panels for resolution, the principles, the people with the authority to resolve the dispute had never actually met. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes millions of dollars, and they’ve never met. How do you do that? That’s craziness. That’s the emotional brain saying I’m right and I’m going to beat you. That’s 50%, That’s awful. It should be mandatory that the people with the authority to resolve it must talk, must have that coffee, a walk, a scotch, whatever that is. So that’s 50%.

Then there’s 25%. I’ve been told by my litigation peers, friends and network that a rule of thumb, and maybe this is accurate, maybe it’s not, but I’ve been told by a number the rule of thumb is that if you go to court then 25% of the time the judge will get it wrong because the judge judges on a whole bunch of different subjects. They are likely not an expert on your subject matter. So, 25% of the time they’ll just blow it. Is that what you want? That’s kind of like rolling the dice.

Of all the conflicts that get ramped up and into a process, an estimated 5% ever make it to court. I think it’s less now. So why do our agreements and our processes and our thinking take us from where I’m angry and you’re taking advantage of me on that gas plant or pipeline, wind farm, or whatever, so I’m going to go to court? That’s a big jump. Of the ones that go to court less than 1% are resolved by a court. Less than 1% of disputes are resolved in the courts. So, we get an upside-down system that loses control of processes, opportunities, relationships, money and time.

Why would we want to do that? Let’s look a little further now into what is the real continuum in between failed negotiation and court or litigation. There’s a continuum. Go to the and you’ll see this continuum right on our front page.

Those things, those processes or events, are the company to company consultations. Go to lunch, have a coffee, go to a football game together, whatever it is. When parties have the most control over the process they’re the least formal and they can be more interest based. And confidentiality is determined by the parties and decisions are made by the parties and it’s all voluntary. Company to company negotiations. So, you go from talk to communication to consultation to good faith negotiation.

Then you can have facilitated negotiations. You can have somebody like me, or many others, work with you through the negotiations. Then you can have a situation assessment meeting, that we’ll talk about a little later. Mediation, some people know mediation through divorce or family mediation. Many courts now have mandatory mediation. The great thing about that is it’s a facilitated, guided process and it’s a professional process. It’s not just something that I mediated. No, that’s a profession, respected as a profession. And it’s all voluntary. You don’t have to agree to anything, nobody’s going to impose anything on you.

Then you go to the processes where you have much less control over the process. They’re way more formal. More legal, norm-based, more expensive and public. So, your dirty laundry is out there for the public. You’re setting precedence. The courtrooms are available, the testimony is available. Do you want that? And more than anything, do you want a third party adjudicating your conflict? These include arbitration, binding and nonbinding. There are things like the National Energy Board of Canada and there are processes around the world like this.

I’m pleased to note that the Alberta Energy Regulator is working with many other countries on building appropriate dispute resolution and public consultation practices and processes that work well in western Canada and they are being co-developed in other countries.

Litigation, regulatory process, arbitration, they are public, they are expensive. Now, mediation can be expensive, but not as much as the others. But arbitration, regulatory and litigation you have much less control. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing. In many cases, those are exactly the right things to do. But what I will say is make a choice.

David’s books

See more on negotiation, dispute resolution, collaboration and leadership in Book 4: Break Through To Yes: Unlocking the Possible with Collaboration

Unlocking the Possible

How do you choose to deal more effectively with conflict? Send me a note.


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David B Savage

David B Savage