The CEO and I (What Are You Studying?)

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the CEO of a medium sized retail company. Our conversation was at first the usual awkward way of getting warmed up to someone new. A joke or two cracked here and there to lighten the exchange. I worked through my head the stages of building rapport and mentally tried to establish how well we were doing. It would have been very easy to end the conversation by expressing how great it was to meet him and move along, but, that did not happen.


JAMPRO, Jamaica. Photo Credit, SHC/2013

The conversation steered along and I was quite willing to relax and become a significant participant. That decision allowed me to put to the test the concepts I was being exposed to in graduate school. Eventually the question was asked. ” What are your studying?”

I thought of using the long cumbersome title of my program, Conflict Analysis and Resolution, but I have seen the reaction of so many business owners and managers that I quickly aborted that idea and decided to use another route.  I did not want to add to his confusion of trying to figure out what it meant.

So I shared a story and because my interest is in organizational culture and the conflict narratives, the one I chose would be adaptive to any situation. I spoke about the tension for resources; the gap that exists between management and labour; the type of media used to introduce new company directions. I tied the fact that there is an inability to respond to stakeholders in a expeditious manner and the issue of how we communicate.

I then asked, “where does conflict not exist?”

His response was the classic response from company directors and owners of business. “There is the elephant in the room, and this elephant, conflict, is not acknowledged.”

“No leader of a company wants to admit that they experience conflict”.

The question is, if one does not acknowledge it and take steps to address the “tension”, are you then prepared to spend top dollar to resolve it? Litigation is costly, but there is also a toll on the  morale of the organization. To minimize an organization’s tension, steps must be taken to assess the risk associated with not addressing events quickly. From my own experiences, we are mostly afraid of confronting issues head on and prefer to hit the default button. Confrontation is a stressful matter for most, but if carefully managed, can offer rewarding results. But note, conflict (tensions) should be carefully managed with built in strategies to guide how people interact along with appropriate intervention responses.

The field is a growing area and does not only apply to conflict zones, where we imagine slaying modern dragons, with weapons of mass destruction. It’s application has far reaching implications for organizations that are struggling with resource challenges, team synergy and manifestations of leadership crisis. As Conflict Resolution Practitioners, our craft is aimed at significantly improving the relationships through a range of solutions, not of our own making, but developed from the innovative minds of those who require assistance. Our field is multi-disciplinary and because of this we are able to add a variety of perspectives to the experiences of those who are experts in their business.

Forty minutes later, the CEO, who was initially in the awkward tango of conversation with me, smiled, extended his hand and firmly shook mine. Something was reinforced to me that afternoon and I will share it with you.

Being an expert is a humbling experience because you are always called upon to sensitize another to what it is you do. It is not necessary to echo the traditional labels that have been socially constructed nor is it necessary to seek to establish your credibility by flashing titles. People genuinely want to know the answers to questions. It is our responsiblity to choose the right stories for the right audience as we help them construct in their minds the limitless possibilities that are associated with our profession.

Be engaged…

© Suzette Henry Campbell 2014



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