Some conflict is healthy and constructive but dysfunctional conflict between individuals, teams, business units, partners, family business members exact a high cost.



get locked into their initial positions
are driven by biased views of their counterparts
don’t allow for cultural difference affecting contracts
Settle for inferior deals
Losing relationships and opportunities for the longer term

It undermines your organisation
It can be interpersonal

Poor co-operation among colleagues and stakeholders
People not talking to each other
Leaders not supporting each other
Excessively siloed behavior
Allegations of bullying, racial and sexual harrassment
Ineffective management style
Passive aggression – low energy – poor performanc

It can be cultural and systemic

Role and responsibilities overlap
Lack of alignment between strategy, systems, processes and people
Clash of corporate cultures in joint ventures, post-acquisition
Workload and capacity issues testing resilience to extremes
Change resisting

And it can be a combination of factors

Often characterised by poor language and rhetoric,
insults, gaffes and muddled sense-making

The cost is economic and damaging to relationships. So why do leaders often let it roll on without intervening?

Because embarrassment, anxiety, cultural inhibition and a lack of confident expertise leads to inertia:

‘my manager is not dealing with it’ becomes part of the problem

It takes courage and skill

  • To recognise the signs and causes
  • To steer the purposeful conversations needed for effecting change


Spironicholson offers supportive, conflict management approaches

  • MEDIATION, FACILITATION, CONSULTATION to help resolve disputes and conflict between individuals, teams, business units and stakeholders.
  • COACHING to help clients deal with ‘difficult’ relationships and to embed agreements in practice
  • WORKSHOPS to help clients develop negotiation and conflict management skills and collaborative capabilityOur background and experience as organisational consultants, coaches and mediators is well tuned to the dynamics of conflict in a business context and the cultural dynamics of Asia Pacific and its worldwide relations

In partnership with our clients we generate value-adding, sustainable solutions.


CONTEXT: Alice has been posted from USA HQ to a regional HQ in Hong Kong where she will take over a regional marketing team. She reports to VP Asia Pacific and her global functional head of Strategic Marketing in San Francisco. She is finding it difficult at times because

  • her briefing from her global boss seems incompatible with the operating model and priorities set by her regional boss.
  • The management styles of both bosses send out very different signals to the Hong Kong team about the corporate culture
  • Both bosses are highly critical of each other when she meets with them or has a call.

She has also tried to raise the issue with her team who have been reluctant to offer feedback.

Alice has asked the HR director in the USA and the regional HR manager if they could offer assistance.

In this scenario we were able to help the two bosses reach an accommodation based on broadly common policy and operating messages, minimum standards of behaviour when referring to each other among subordinates, some work with the team nuancing the cultural tendencies of the global business and regional, local ways.

PROCESS: The process involved in-depth individual discussions with the two bosses and Alice, an offsite meeting facilitated by a mediator, an agreement written up by the mediator and signed off by the two bosses and submitted to the group CEO.

OUTCOME: A better conducted management of differences between the 2 bosses and more care when communicating publicly. This may not seem transformational but sometimes a shift in emphasis is sufficient for more viable conditions.


CONTEXT: Two executives represent their company in negotiations for a multimillion contract with a prospective strategic partner. The contract involves technology and service agreements. Their manager has received an unusual email from the supplier pointing out that tension between the two executives is an unhelpful factor at the negotiating table. This resonates with his own observations of his executive team. Anxious for the negotiations to continue he hires an independent mediator to see if the relationship can be improved.

PROCESS: The mediator is briefed about the context then conducts in-depth 1 to 1 interviews with each team member. This is followed by an offsite mediation day in which to explore and process the history between them including a specific incident. This leads to some apologising and agreement to behaviour standards for the future. Coaching is available to help implementation.


  • more harmonious working relations across the executive team
  • alignment with the aims of the business

“I’d struggled for some time to find a way to build a more effective team and to resolve the friction between some of its members. SpiroNicholson’s collaborative and supportive approach to resolving the conflict, and their interpersonal skills training, helped us over the stumbling blocks. The team and its members made tangible progress as a result of their engagement.”

Senior Manager, Public Service Organisation


CONTEXT: An employee made allegations of racial harrassment by a supervising manager. The organisation initiated an independent investigation which dismissed the allegations. The employee made further allegations that the investigation was biased since it was conducted by a manager close to the one under investigation. He decided to pursue a claim which would be heard by an employment tribunal. The employer instructed counsel and the employee sought assistance from his trade union. Meanwhile, the department experienced staff resignations, absenteeism and illness.

PROCESS: Three years after the initial allegations Spironicholson carried out a two stage mediation after extensive interviewing and document review. Stage 1 involved storying and mutual listening by those involved, negotiations in caucus and a provisional agreement to be signed at stage 2 provided that the measures had proved sustainable.

OUTCOME: An agreement between the employee and employer involving a carefully crafted apology from senior management, a set of diversity policy guidelines and processes to avert prolonged disputes of a similar kind. The claimant did not seek financial compensation.




CONTEXT: Kerry joined the executive team of a Melbourne-based charity attracted by charismatic award-winning entrepreneur Marty Winstadt’s Ted talk “low on overhead, high on delivery – leveraging committed employees.” For the first six months Kerry was on a high, willingly giving herself to the long hours needed by the project. Meanwhile, Marty had been travelling to international conferences where he would announce new projects. He was now asking the team to write business plans for these. The workload was becoming intolerable and two executives had resigned with no replacements in sight. In fact Kerry felt Marty wasn’t committed to finding replacements. She tried to talk to him on one of his increasingly short visits to the office. He reminded her that ‘not-for-profits’ don’t have the resources of regular businesses and congratulated her on her resilience compared to the departed colleagues. A month later Marty made an impromptu presentation to the team about a new idea he wanted to launch ‘this year’. Kerry exploded about the lack of consultation and the insensitivity about implementation to which Marty expressed disappointment, observing that he had already made a commitment to a client government to provide a pilot in Q4.

PROCESS: Mediation is only possible if both Marty and the team agree to participate. Kerry consulted a mediator who concluded that there was a very low probability of Marty agreeing to mediation. Therefore they agreed some coaching in order to develop Kerry’s handling of her boss and to provide her with some support.

OUTCOME: Eventually Kerry left for a role with a more ‘listening’ organisation, fulfilling for her and perhaps a missed opportunity for Marty



CONTEXT: Two European companies own distribution joint ventures in South-East Asia. These are very profitable and growing yet the JV management teams report confusion and frustration in dealing with the principals. One is seen as ‘over-controlling and treating the distributor as if they were a subsidiary while the other is seen as under-controlling, over-reliant on interpersonal relations and treating the distributor as a partner.” This approximates how the principals see each other. In addition there is an overlay of cross-cultural factors country by country and increased risk due to counterfeit product in the market, focussing the need for improved relations and practices.

PROCESS: A faciliated conference based on findings from interviews and document briefings with management teams and principals. The conference was cathartic about the past and led to a reassessed approach to managing the JVs, a coaching programme and some workshops on the interplay between corporate and local cultures.

OUTCOME: Can be summed up by a JV marketing director – “It’s the first time we’ve ever been listened to!” A modified and more transparent set of policies and greater awareness among managers about the effect of behaviour managemenent behaviour.
Channels in place to capture issues more quickly and productively.


Not all conflict is dysfunctional.
Conflict in business can be very productive and energising.
So we work with clients to identify and promote

  • Positive collaborative practices
  • Candour and contentious debate in decision-making
  • Assertive influencing
  • Interest-led negotiation
  • Tools and techiques for when the going gets tough

For a confidential chat email me to or call +65 81436148