Neil Denny's thinking on conflict resolution is music to my ears. I have long had a fascination for the dynamics of dispute resolution, having worked over the years with so many different types of litigator, both solicitors and barristers, and I always love to hear from those practitioners who are pushing the boundaries and developing some of the more creative approaches to it.
Neil is a family lawyer and a consultant collaborative lawyer at Family Law in Partnership (founded by the very wonderful Gillian Bishop with whom, coincidentally, I worked almost 20 years ago when she was Head of Litigation at Brecher & Co and I was its in-house marketing manager). He is also a conflict management trainer and author of the excellent 'Conversational Riffs - creating meaning out of conflict'. The music analogy runs throughout his book: the foreword is renamed an 'Overture'; each chapter is listed as a different album track, complete with title page depicting a vinyl record; and the first chapter is entitled 'A Tune A Day'. In a nutshell his message is 'change the tune', ie learn how to alter your own rhythm of communication in order to disrupt recurring negative patterns and find new ones that lead to better outcomes. And his theory applies as much to personal relationships as to commercial disputes.
In conversation over coffee in Covent Garden this week (we met on Twitter but it turns out we work just 100 yards from each other in Long Acre - a very modern networking story) he talked in depth about his ideas and set me thinking for hours afterwards. We were meeting just as Neil was preparing to fly to Chicago and Seattle to give collaborative leadership training to lawyers and speak on 'Grudgeology' [love it Neil!] at the North West ADR conference. North America has a big appetite for his take on conflict resolution. You can see an example of Neil's work from his 'Do Lectures' talk last year ('Inspiring talks from people who are changing the world - Go Do!')
'Conversational Riffs' he tells me 'takes its inspiration from the world of blues music and how any 'riff' that a jamming musician plays will have a significant influence on the next musical sequence that his fellow jammers will respond with. The idea is to think about how your own conversational riffs will influence how the person you are communicating with will respond, whether the conversation is an argument, a debate, a negotiation, a complaint, or whatever.'
I love this musical analogy, as it suggests there is fun and enjoyment to be found in managing conflict - and this is a big theme for Neil:
'Good relationships are not characterised by less conflict,' he says, 'but more! The key is to manage it positively. A survey by Begbies Traynor, the UK's leading business rescue, recovery and restructuring specialist, revealed that typically nine out of 10 managers in the failing businesses they advise had hidden bad news from their directors (often issues relating to soured client relationships, poor staff morale, etc). So senior management had been routinely fed an unrealistic view of the business. No wonder they had failed in steering the business to success. The managers' excuse (84% of them) for not passing this information on? A fear that their own careers might suffer. So the conflict issues were neither acknowledged nor addressed, but instead avoided out of fear of what the personal ramifications might have been. But with all this avoidance of the real issues in the business, the ramifications came later anyway - and how!'
So no more need to shy away from conflict. In future, bring it on! I'll tell my family they have you to thank, Neil ;-)
This is the first in a series of blogposts this May on the topic of dispute resolution.
The fracas caused by The Sun's Roy Hodgson front page this week was interesting to observe. The speed at which most of the country seemed to leap on what they deemed spiteful and inappropriate was almost heartwarming. Announcing his appointment as England manager after the resignation of Fabio Capello, The Sun's headline 'Bwing on the Euwos! (We'll see you in Ukwaine against Fwance)' was roundly branded 'disgraceful journalism' and a debate ran for days across all media platforms, traditional and social, about whether it's right to focus biting satire on an individual's speech defect.
'Is offence ever justified on the grounds of humour?', 'Do different rules apply when poking fun at an individual's personal characteristics, rather than at poor performance in a highly paid role?' An old Sun classic was dragged out of the archives in evidence on this point: Graham Taylor likened to a turnip. 'But that was criticism of his performance, not a personal characteristic' the debate raged. 'But is it a speech impediment anyway, or just a speech variation, like a regional accent?'
What was really interesting though, was how it seemed to improve Hodgson's profile. Not many people's first choice for the role, since The Sun's lampooning opinion has turned around and everyone's calling for the man to be given a chance and show us all what he can do before he's judged.
We're very proud that our clients Russell Jones and Walker advised Hodgson on his employment contract and that, very unusually for the media, lawyer Paul Daniels' role in this is being appreciated. Check out this piece in the Daily Mail: '20million reasons why Hodgson loves lawyers'. You certainly worked your magic on this one Paul!
Damien Hirst took me by surprise. Visiting his Retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern I was quite prepared to tut and shake my head all the way round, disapproving of this precocious art pretender. But instead I was completely blown away. I can't think when I've seen a collection so colourful and so beautifully executed. He utterly won me over - that he had something genuine to say on his key themes of beauty, horror, life and death, and that these pieces weren't just attention-grabbing gimmicks.
The highlight for me was the living butterflies in his 'In and out of Love' piece: huge, tropical, azure-blue and multi-coloured butterflies floated mesmerizingly around the room and honestly my heart skipped a beat. Do go and enjoy. It really is a treat!