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Conflict Resolution in Retail - Part Three

In part one, I gave an insight about the strain between architects and engineers. In part two, I discussed a conflict situation between a director and her staff. In part three, I will overview a Retail leader's inability to deal with his anger.


A CEO of a retail business was keen to better understand his anger. This was both hard but a rewarding experience. He was bright and very successful. He was meticulous about the detail and demanded much from his staff. He was uncompromising in his approach to business. His drive was to deliver profit across many sites throughout the UK and Europe. He set high standards. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. He was very clear about business and got angry when staff didn’t meet his expectations. This led to a conflict situation that he wanted to resolve.


Several off-site meetings gave an insight into his perspective and background. We scoped out what his thoughts were especially around, anger and expectations. For example, an outburst and heated exchanges with his direct reports occurred when there were mistakes in pricing of a specific line of clothing; or a marketing campaign didn’t have the impact it should have; or revenue at one site was down. Staff would be very nervous and anxious of any interaction with him. They would take their time over decisions to ensure they got them right. This would slow things down which in turn led to more conflict situations.

Focusing on his outbursts, revealed something much deeper and profound in his life. The big question was whether he could face it. Was he going to take the time to explore and understand it? Would he shed light on what he was blind to? Why was frustration and anger his chosen response to a difficult situation?

He began to understand where his high standards came from. Major themes and issues came to light by exploring his experiences as a child through to adulthood. His early work experiences also contributed to his intolerant attitude. An alternative way of thinking gave him new learning. He especially enjoyed the examples of how world champion athletes dealt with conflict. Following these sessions, he made himself more accessible with a "come-&-join-me-for-lunch" day. Staff would be able to attend lunch with specific questions for him. He was trying to create a more psychologically safe environment for more open dialogue. At first, this intervention had a low response rate but over time more staff built the courage to attend. He began to see things through a new set of lenses.


The off-site and staff feedback sessions were helpful. He was more empathetic and changed his perspective. Communication with staff was better. He learnt to soft land difficult issues before getting angry. Staff could see that he was trying. They were happier and made faster decisions and more progress. Over this period, his command and control style was replaced with the following:

  • Greater understanding and empathy of his staff, especially his direct reports

  • Building high levels of situational awareness to prevent issues becoming a problem

  • Spending more time with direct reports to understand how they make decisions

In conclusion, deeper reflection and coaching was enabling for this CEO. Unravelling his assumptions about conflict and anger improved his relationships. His direct reports were happier. He was able to understand and identify why he reacted the way he did. His empathy for staff grew. He began to develop greater emotional currency to match his undoubted skills. He started to appreciate handling conflict in a new way. He could see how beneficial it was to him but also his staff. He was able to make a big difference in the way he operated and the business improved.


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