Handling Christmas Fall-out
21st January 2020
Here are ten tips for getting your dispute sorted:
- Make resolution your priority Don't let emotion get the better of you. It is not about winning or losing. Take a step back. Put the dispute in perspective and focus on the future. What are your 'must haves', 'wish lists' and 'no-nos’ for you and your business? Now, put yourself in their shoes. Do the same for them.
- Prepare Think about a) how you are going to get what you want, and b) what you may need to do, to get them to give you what you want. Think about what tone to adopt. Role play the conversations. Remember, it is not what you say, but what they hear that matters.
- Seek expert help to have those difficult conversations A neutral third party or mediator can clear the air, stop discussions descending into the usual arguments, knock heads together and get people focused on settling. So much so, that 85% of mediations settle on the day. In what I would call ‘relationship disputes’, say between business partners or family members, there are often several ‘layers’ of issues. Typically, the issues that surface first are simply the easiest ones to express in legal correspondence, but the underlying issues - the past altercations, unresolved misunderstandings, competing ambitions, fears or concerns - are invariably the most important ones to resolve, particularly if they are threatening the relationship or the business. Mediating enables you to sort out the legal and commercial issues, but also to go further and address those fundamental issues and unblock the impasse.
- Meet face to face You will get a clearer sense of what it is going to take to resolve matters and what the real issues are. Not just from what they say (only 7% of communication comes from the actual words) but from their tone and body language.
- Listen There's more than one version of the truth. You don't have to agree with what someone says but empathising can make a real difference. Get them to articulate what’s on their mind. Make sure you understand their position before you start explaining yours - or you will be wasting your time.
- Fight the problem, not the person Accentuate the positive. Explain what you have in common. Identify joint obstacles that need to be overcome. Generate and evaluate options. Make sure everyone also understands what they have to lose - and not just financially.
- Press for decisions Discuss the various options openly. Let people participate, including any people who you worried may object so that you get buy in.
- Bite your tongue Keep an open mind and try to give others the benefit of the doubt. It may seem trivial but at the heart of the conflict, there may be an underlying human need, like the need to feel safe, respected or valued. So no eye-ball rolling. Instead of taking something personally or responding immediately, take a minute to process your feelings about the situation. Keep calm and explain your position clearly.
- Sign it Once terms have been agreed, draft a short agreement. Get it signed before you leave. Or things might unspool. Aside, from the added cost, stress and management time likely to be involved dealing with any fall-out, if a perceived ‘agreement’ is ruptured, that can often exacerbate feelings of mistrust or frustration - think of it as the commercial equivalent of calling off an engagement – and the consequences can be particularly damaging, both for individual family relationships and for the family business.
- Learn from your mistakes Knowing how to manage a dispute can be invaluable, but the real wisdom is in the ability to spot a conflict, defuse it and head it off.
Use what you learn to cultivate a culture of communication and trust and help those around you understand the family’s purpose and values.
Ironing out issues face to face may feel more emotional but it is likely to be more cathartic and long lasting. Working together and building trust can help you do more than simply reach an agreement. It can help you both implement it and establish better, and less painful, ways of collaborating in future.
 According to research undertaken in 1971 by Albert Mehrabian
Andrew Hildebrand is one of the UK’s most sought after commercial mediators. Recognised as a leading mediator by Legal 500 and Chambers, he has a high success rate and a knack for resolving emotionally charged family business and partnership disputes.
A big advocate of early stage mediation, Andrew also helps family members deal with change, succession and other issues. This reflects his background as a deal-maker and former top-ranked General Counsel working in industry for over twenty years brokering multi-party, multi-national deals, including for Channel 4, Film Four and Richard Attenborough.
Find out more at https://mediate.co.uk/mediator/andrew-hildebrand/