Conflict Assessment

Leo Smyth

Professor of Management, National University of Ireland

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: A friend of mine who's a very good OD consultant used to tell this story, it's always stuck in my mind. He said, "Sometimes people won't tell you what the problem is, but they'll actually demonstrate it for you." The story he used to illustrate this was that he'd been asked to consult with this business company and they were all set to do two days of consulting. He and his assistant arrive and they were starting with a dinner the night before. It so happened they were in a hotel with small round tables and his assistant was seated next to the CEO of the company.

Naturally during the dinner they got to talk and the following morning, during the first session, they arrive in the conference room. Everything is prepared. He has thought of how he is going to run this session, what he's going to do, what they're going to do about diagnosis, what they're going to do about sharing, and so on. Before he can say anything, the chief executive announces very aggressively, points at his assistant and says, "I'm not fucking working with this guy." He said, "Gosh for all the things I had not prepared for one was to have my assistant fired in the first minute." There I was thinking, it's hard enough to do with 2 people, but now I'm going to have to spend two days working on my own.

On the other hand he said, "It might've taken us a lot of time to work at what was the problem here, and obviously one of the problems here is that the CEO occasionally goes into these kinds of loops but he didn't tell us, he actually demonstrated it for us." That's what we'll do, we'll work with that, that's the data, and we'll take it from there.

Q: Which is more than any employee would've said, with the CEO sitting right there in the room, "You know what the problem is? This guy over here. He gets in these moods, and makes these rash decisions vicariously," or whatever the example may be.