Managing Dispensary Conflict

Art & Science of Dispensary Conflict Management

As the complexities of the cannabis industry increases, so does the potential for conflict, both internal and external to the cannabis organization. Cannabis businesses should sharpen their conflict resolution skills and even embrace conflict as an opportunity to drive creativity, alignment, and growth.

We train people to be expert in managing technology, numbers, finance and the law. But this most fundamental characteristic of human interaction – conflict – is something we are somehow just supposed to figure out as we go along, but we don’t.

Not knowing how to handle it, we prefer to ignore it and hope it goes away. The bad news is that it won’t go away; unresolved conflict festers and grows. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Ancient Egypt, conflict was called repdat. In Javanese, konflik. In Hmong, teeb meem. While the definition of ‘conflict‘ is pretty much the same in every culture, ‘conflict resolution‘ is a different animal. Cultural constructs and historical contexts influence the meaning and practice. In English, conflict resolution is frequently interconnected with sports terminology and industrial disputes. In Arabic, it revolves around honor and Islamic ethics. In Hebrew, it’s tied to military metaphors.

Those constructs and contexts can influence business relations globally. It’s a pervasive challenge, and now as the cannabis industry expands its reach globally, the potential for conflict is on the rise – internally and externally. Add in a complex cannabis organization adds new opinions, customs, conventions, and personalities.

One of the most comprehensive studies ever done on the issue, “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive,” by CPP Inc. in its Global Human Capital Report, found that in 2008, U.S. employees spent approximately 2.1 hours per week involved in conflict (as defined as “any workplace disagreement that disrupts the flow of work“).

That translated into over $300 billion in paid hours or the equivalent of nearly 400 million workdays, the employee survey also found:

  • 85% at all levels experienced conflict at some point in their work experience.
  • 34% of conflict occurred among front-line employees.
  • 29% experienced it almost constantly.
  • 27% witnessed it leading to personal attacks.
  • 12% observed it frequently among the senior team.
  • 9% observed it causing a project to fail.

Worth noting is that the survey was published 10 years ago. What’s HR to do, especially when studies show that managers are generally averse to dealing with conflict and the causes of conflict in the workplace?


Art of Confronting Conflict

We did some polling questions on a webinar, and one question was, ‘What is your instinctive first response to a conflict situation?‘ Some 53 percent said it was to delay responding.

Avoiding conflict can be highly destructive, they often escalate into personal conflict, but if they go unresolved or fester, it can have a negative impact on the relationship and turn into a relationship conflict. Then a lack of trust permeates the entire alliance. So you are doing your company a disservice if you don’t raise and resolve issues constructively.

Task-oriented communications are neutral or positive and focus on ideas and perspectives; relationship-oriented communications can be negative and focus on emotions and people. The goal should be to stay rational with the task and start with basic foundational questions such as:

  • What is the task?
  • Should it be done?
  • What are the experience levels of the people doing the task?

The task should be objective and rational. But sometimes it bleeds over into the relationship-oriented side, and the skills you need to move it back to task-oriented require constructive responses and analysis to get you back on track.

Companies typically have a difficult time dealing with conflict and there are five widely accepted methods for resolving conflict: collaborating, competing, compromising, accommodating and avoiding. Most people think conflict is negative and may want to ignore it. If used correctly, it can be a very powerful tool.

It can help us become better leaders and better relationship owners. By managing and working with conflict, you can enable better change management styles. Some people think it’s ‘My Way or the Highway.’ In any cannabis business relationship, if you show you can accommodate different viewpoints, you are creating one of the first critical steps in change management. You are building the start of a collaboration.

Arreche said an easy-to-recall exercise HR professionals can use daily to enhance their conflict resolution skills is the three (3) S-Exercise, which helps “make things happen“:

  1. Standardize: Repeat it over and over.
  2. Simplify: Or people aren’t going to do it. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance.
  3. Structure: It needs to make sense.


Forging the Toughest Steel

The old adage “the toughest steel is forged in the hottest fire” may have some merit in conflict resolution practices. What many call “good conflict” can actually enable innovation and creativity when applied appropriately so conflict can have a beneficial component.

Having open discussions with disagreement encourages people to be candid and opens up points of view and perspectives. If employees are working in an environment with openly shared ideas and critiques, you can build, and then innovative solutions can emerge.

So what happens if progress is unlikely to continue and it is time to throw in the towel? There are always going to be times where people have such conflicting views. If you can’t build an agreement, you might have to go your separate ways.

It’s okay to say ‘No!‘ Negotiation is sometimes saying ‘Yes‘ to maybe the better of the worst options. But conflict resolution and building an agreement could still be the genesis of something completely new. Many of the tools we use create options that support both parties and might be better than either extreme.

Let us know what you think.

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