Pandemic and conflict management

by Dennis A. Benjamin B. Ec. LL.B. NMAS. Principal, Conflict Mediator

The pandemic is changing our lives and how we respond to unexpected challenges and conflict now and for the foreseeable future.

Australians sense of mateship that we are so keen and want to believe in and project internally and globally may take on new challenges. Mates in business and in life fall out just as families, partners, business and shareholder interests can collide even with the best-laid plans for avoidance. Overlay the impact of the pandemic and the emotion as well as the frustrations of life and the prospect of added conflict is that much more. 

In fact, Australians are consistently among the most litigious in the world. The most litigious country in the world is the US. USA management liability specialist Kevin LaCroix includes class actions which have grown in Australia’s positioning of being very litigious.

Today, litigation is extremely expensive. With the stress of the pandemic and its implications causing more conflict, the world becomes less forgiving.

In Australia, with the company insolvency laws put on hold until this year, it will give rise to many disputes as to when those businesses really were insolvent. Was the insolvency before the pandemic and therefore action can be taken by aggrieved creditors and investors in those companies?

We are going to see, more arguments between commercial tenants and their landlords, particularly in pandemic restricted Melbourne in the state of Victoria, Australia. As you read this you may not think of restrictions in Melbourne but occupancy of offices only just increased to 50% on 18 January, 2021 and are now changing to 75 per cent.

What of the banks and the servicing requirement expectations of their mortgagors when the rentals that they had otherwise expected, aren’t received? This is a complete open area for disputes in how fair interpretation and self-interests should be resolved.

What of the partnerships in business and or in life where the time out in lockdown gives rise to a re-evaluation of the worth of one’s interest or other aspects of the business or a key relationship?

What of other commercial relationships and how they will be impacted by the pandemic? What of the fears of family members arising from the pandemic that give rise to conflict with others within their family unit due to these difficult times?

As more businesses get into financial difficulty, expect that the creation of conflict will be used as a common tool for avoiding paying bills that are otherwise due and payable. It is therefore imperative as readily as possible to look for a way to reach resolution that is acceptable. This is where a skilled mediator can make a difference in keeping parties focussed, and driven for results that are a key to relationships being sorted and lost resources minimised. 

In the Harvard Business Review article of February 27, 2020, on “Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis” it notes “Prepare for a changed world” and that “when the urgent part of the crisis has been navigated, companies should consider what this crisis changes and what they’ve learned so they can reflect them in their plans.” Sound lesson. I would add another lesson. Plan a process and forum to address where unexpected challenges might come from. Plan too the establishment of a team to prepare for these contingencies with a view to minimising conflict. 

The objective is to head off despair from conflict and litigation where possible. 

The extent of prospective conflict with banks, government, in business or in life has never been greater.

The central question is how to best manage conflict management in this pandemic and beyond.

The answer in my view is in planning and investing now to save much heartache and substantial costs later. Much of this planning involves putting the issues on the table and resolving them in a structured way and to document it.

Rarely have I seen parties being able to do this themselves. The structure of how it is managed is part of the pre-planning that is crucial in a well-considered process looking to address the contention and conflict between the parties via mediation. 

Done properly, I believe that the opportunity exists to do so much in so many ways to allow people to get on with their lives.

If you or someone you know is in conflict and would like a first discussion with no obligation then I welcome being able to assist if possible.

Striving for conflict resolved fairly.

Dennis A. Benjamin B.Ec. LL.B. NMAS

Nationally Accredited Mediator and Principal,

Conflict Mediator