Death by Mammoth

Conflict resolution tips from our ice-age ancestors

Standing strong in the howling wind, spear in hand with wolf-skinned shoulders, he bears the mark of a leader on his face and the scars to prove it. Gazing off into the frozen tundra, he sees nothing but cold hard reality. More walking, more searching, more empty-handed returns.

No game taken in 8 moons, his hunter-pack is restless, their shouts behind him echoing off glacier walls that have no heart and offer no mercy.

Fights have been going on for days about lack of game trails, ever steeper climbs, worsening conditions and his broken promises.

The barking continues, and a flint-dagger fight soon ensues. He reaches into the fray, pulling apart brawling hunters. They are starving, cold and may leave the tribe.

He knows this inter-tribe conflict is about survival, frozen prospects and more importantly, the pressure of disappointed faces and empty-bellies back in the caves.

Is anything different in our modern business today?

No, there are no new types of conflict under our sun, be it shining down on the 21st floor Midtown Tokyo’s tinted conference room windows or on a pack of hunters squatting in rabbit-skin boots 14,000 years ago.

As a seasoned leader of hunters, he knows that 96 percent of all inter-tribe conflicts are over two things:

- Where are we going(destinations, outcomes)?

- How are we going to get there (methods, tactics)?

The final 4 percent is over personality disorders, but we’ll save that for another cave posting.

This hunter leader tells us:

1. Resolution must begin with a starting point:

Before he can resolve conflicts, he must get an agreed starting point. Without it, he’ll just tread more snow, get cold feet and may end up getting stabbed.

On the cavewall or whiteboard (for you future folk), stop the barking and ask the following:

Are we fighting over “Where we are going” or “How we are going to get there?”


His hunters scream in unison, “Me hungry, me need food badly!”

Rok says: “We need BIG game, meat and fat good for winter, skins keep us warm!”

But, Grimtok says: “We should go river, get berries and nuts.”

2. Conflicts over destinations are resolved by applying values:

Is this where we should go? Is this the real direction of our company? Is mammoth meat really that important to us?

Great, we have a starting point. Need food. Hunt it or gather it. And no, getting food is not always a starting point, as some up and coming hunters may want to move location(s) just to flex their soon-to-be leader muscles and look important.

3. Conflicts over methods/options are resolved by analysis (benefit/risk):

Rok’s Big Game Hunt:
Benefits: Lots of meat, full stomachs in winter, huge skins for clothing and boots.
Risks: Getting stomped by mammoth, then dying.

Grimtok’s Collecting Berries by River:
Benefits: Nuts and berries taste great, easy to pick.
Risks: Freezing in the winter, get hungry again as nut&s berries trail-mix is not very filling

4. Conflict is good:

Superior predators evolved to thrive and survive on conflict and stress, both within the pack and against nature. Without it they wither, starve and re-enter the food chain before their time.

Cool summers and warm winters, bubble economies and profit windfalls are as dangerous to long term team stability and strength as sabertooth tigers and lazy Mondays on Facebook.

It is cold air on exposed skin, empty stomachs, aching feet and the gut feeling of mutually shared potential extinction that creates true hunter-tribe excellence. It is your role as a tribe leader to channel stress and conflict into positive actions, by listening for the causes of conflicts and mapping out a starting point for resolving them.

Conflict resolution is not about winning or losing; it’s about survival, dominance, success and moving forward to the next game trail, despite whatever the tundra, a mammoth or economy tries to kill you with.


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