Thursday, June 6, 2013

managing conflict in the workplace

plan your meeting in advance 
On a certain occasion when Father Nicanor brought a checker set to the chestnut tree and invited him to a game, José Arcadio Buendía would not accept, because according to him he could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules.
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

It seems to me the exercise of war is a demonstration of commitment to a cause, the point being to establish that your commitment to a position is greater than the commitment of your opponent. Clausewitz said "War is the continuation of politics by other means". War operates on a mass-psychological level, involving the marshaling of commitment of entire populations.

King George III described the cost of war in terms of "blood and treasure," but the currency of war is ultimately blood. Even treasure is valuable only as long as you (or your people) are alive to enjoy it.

It seems to me the purpose of war is to demonstrate the commitment of a population to a position, and this commitment is reckoned in blood, your own blood. Measured in terms of commitment, willingness to die for a cause trumps willingness to kill.

What if José Arcadio Buendía had agreed to the checker game, and Father Nicanor had won the game, only using a checkers computer app? Would José Arcadio Buendía have considered himself defeated? I suspect José Arcadio Buendía would then have given Father Nicanor a bloody nose. ...and walked away the victor, in my view.

Robotic technologies, such as drones, enable (economically advantaged) warring nations to draw blood without putting their own soldiers in harms way. In my view, this is cheating, like Father Nicanor's checkers computer. The nation using the robotic weapons draws the blood of its enemy, but demonstrates no commitment of its own. In fact, the behavior may be read by its enemy as a demonstration of lack of commitment, just as a shiny red sports car betrays the sexual insecurity of the middle-aged man.

Advanced weapons may make it possible for a warring population to kill every one of their committed enemies with minimal risk to your own population. Reckoned in blood, the technologically advantaged side will have won. There will be no committed enemy blood left.

The terror and the horror of their enemy's advanced weapons may drain the commitment of a warring population to the cause. But having entered the conflict, the warriors have already established themselves as resolute and resigned to the cause. Isn't it more likely the use of advanced weapons will strengthen their resolve to test their enemy's commitment?

War seeks the level at which a society is existentially committed to a position. War is a negotiation, diplomacy by other means. It's a market mechanism to determine value, value measured in identity & existence, value reckoned in blood.

In war, the use of advanced weaponry such as drones is cheating, just as Father Nicanor's chess computer is cheating, just as Lance Armstrong's steroids was cheating. In war as in more structured competitions, victory achieved through cheating is illusory and usually fleeting.

I hope this puts your ridiculous workplace conflict into perspective.


If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader


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