Managing and resolving conflict in business – Part 1

In the past, Neil Denny has run some really useful workshops for MD2MD.

His topic is Conversational Riffs: Creating Meaning Out of Conflict. And as usual I’ll précis the highlights for a wider audience whilst recommending all to get the full picture by reading Neil’s book, seeing Neil speak or joining MD2MD to see Neil and many other great speakers month after month.

Neil uses quite a clever metaphor – that of playing guitar chords. If like me, you are not a musician, you may not realise that when we hear a repeated set of chords played, it is known as a riff. ie A riff is the same chords played again and again. And Neil uses this metaphor to suggest that often, when we are faced with conflict, we use the same few riffs again and again. A bit like Status Quo he suggests! Another clever analogy actually as he suggests that the norm or status quo is to react in one of three or four basic and simple ways.

He proposes the sensible idea that if we know more chords, we can play a greater variety of tunes. And in conflict resolution, the equivalent is having a greater range of reactions when we are faced with a conflict situation.

He suggests that when faced with conflict we normally react to Attack with Defence or Counter-Attack or sometimes do nothing. And he goes on to suggest we should learn and try to use some new techniques for conflict resolution including:


Invite the other party to discuss the issue at some later time, when both parties have had time to calm down and think through the issue more rationally


Encourage the other party to talk more about the problem and how they see the world in order that the full picture can be better understood by both parties. Far better than the assumptions we often make about the other party!


Agree and accept the other party’s view of the situation, and put it in the context of the many other situations where you have common ground so that you can jointly fins a way forward that sustains the whole relationship.

Agreeing differences

In this approach the idea is that both parties are able to explain their perceptions of the situation such that the gap can be properly understood and then there can be a joint effort to build a bridge, a solution, that enables both to move on.

And finally he encourages us not to use the final two riffs of despair and flair!

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD

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