Peter Drucker was a highly-respected management consultant and business thinker during the second half of the twentieth century. He authored numerous books including the 1967 classic The Effective Executive. He has been referred to as "the founder of modern management.” Drucker even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his life’s work.
Not surprisingly, Drucker had some things to say about handling disputes. After all, dealing with disputes effectively is indisputably a core skill for any manager. In fact, it’s safe to say that conflict is an inevitable part of life in general and a critically important part of business in particular.
I was recently re-reading a copy of The Effective Executive. I was struck by how quite a bit of it is relevant to dispute resolution. For example, here’s one piece of wisdom that Drucker shared:
“The effective decision-maker does not start out with the assumption that one proposed course of action is right and that all others are must be wrong. Nor does he start out with assumption, ‘I am right and he is wrong.’ He starts out with the commitment to find out why people disagree.”
He goes on to further emphasize:
“The effective executive is concerned first with understanding [original emphasis]. Only then does he even think about who is right and who is wrong.”
And Drucker drives the point home with:
“No matter how high his emotions run, no matter how certain he is that the other side is completely wrong and has no case at all, the executive who wants to make the right decision forces himself to see opposition as his [original emphasis] means to think through the alternatives. He uses conflict of opinion as his tool to make sure all major aspects of an important matter are looked at carefully.”
It is probably fair to say that Drucker’s words resonate with virtually every dispute resolution professional out there even many decades later. But one might ask oneself: how can one apply this to contemporary dispute resolution? There’s no doubt that the principles can still be applied even decades later. But doesn’t everyone know this common sense material already?
However, while almost everyone may be familiar with these concepts, not everyone remembers them when things are difficult. Dispute resolution professionals all know how hard it can be to remember those basic principles when emotions are running high. People often need a gentle constructive reminder to try and understand what the other parties are thinking. Drucker’s carefully constructed and eloquent words are a great way to deliver that message.
Furthermore, it’s human nature for people to tend to push back when they do receive such a reminder. “I don’t need to hear about what they think.” “That’s totally irrelevant, I don’t want to talk about what people are feeling.” “We don’t need to worry about that stuff, l just want to get down to business and talk about what number we’re going to settle this case for.” Does that sound familiar? Every dispute resolution professional has heard some variation of those words before.
Peter Drucker’s words can be a way to deal with these concerns and issues. Citing the work of a well-respected authority with no stake in the pending dispute can be more persuasive than simply telling the parties what to do. Some people generally tend to be persuaded by the wisdom of quotations.
Furthermore, Drucker’s words specifically provide a viable way to re-frame the need to consider other parties’ viewpoints in a way that might be more broadly acceptable and overcome resistance. Certain parties might be better able to relate to a business figure like Peter Drucker. He was not a professional peace-maker. At the end of the day, Drucker was a hard-nosed management consultant who was primarily concerned with teaching people how to conduct business more efficiently and more profitably.
Drucker’s words therefore will likely resonate with certain parties. Some parties for whatever reason need to focus on a “business-like” approach and/or at least be perceived as focusing on a “business-like” approach. Using Drucker’s recommendations can satisfy those needs while also satisfying the crucial need to get all of the parties considering other parties’ viewpoints.
So please consider adding these quotes from Peter Drucker to your already extensive dispute resolution toolkit. They very well might come in handy for you some time soon.