Meat Me in the Middle

Meat Me in the Middle

When conflict arises, our fight-or-flight instincts can quickly kick in. Either response usually results in more problems. A recent book I read, Conflict Without Casualties by Nate Regier, PhD., explains an alternative. Through openness, resourcefulness, and persistence, conflict can turn into a positive, creative force instead.

The transformation of Arby’s is a great example of the process Dr. Regier outlines. The company was experiencing major conflict, which Dr. Regier defines as a difference between our desires and what we are receiving. At the start of 2011, the restaurant chain had just experienced three years of declining sales. It was considered the worst-performing fast food restaurant “in modern restaurant history”  (Jeff Kauflin, Forbes, 2017). Restaurants are in business to make a profit, but Arby’s was in financial trouble, with restaurants closing.

To resolve this conflict, Paul Brown was hired in 2013. The first step Brown took to turn things around follows the first competency that Dr. Regier recommends: “Openness.” Rather than charge in and act like he had all the answers, Brown started with what he called the “Listening Tour” (Richard Feloni, Business Insider, 2018). He spent more than half of the first three months visiting restaurants and talking with nearly a thousand employees. During his initial meetings with Arby’s leadership, he mostly sat silent and took a lot of notes. Brown claimed this openness resulted in many insights he would have missed if he had immediately pushed his own agenda and ideas.

Emotions can run high during conflict, which is why conflict often spirals into negativity, causing people to get hurt emotionally and physically. Openness provides a safe environment in which to share feelings. Being open means listening to others without being critical, and resisting the temptation to discount what is shared.

The second competency is “Resourcefulness.” It’s crucial to identify what resources are available and decide how to apply those resources in addressing the conflict. Being resourceful means building on past successes and leveraging strengths that are already present. In Arby’s case, the restaurant has always been about the meat, so Brown built on that. He asked leadership to develop new sandwiches that were super-meaty. He also made sure to re-train employees and remodeled existing stores. With these changes and some new marketing campaigns, Arby’s began to see customers return, even millennials. In 2 years, the “millennials” percentage of their customers rose from 38 % to 54 % (Kate Taylor, Business Insider, 2016).

Finally, there must be “Persistence.” The parties involved must stay the course, aiming to resolve the conflict. This requires holding one other accountable in respectful ways. Boundaries and non-negotiables are still important, according to Dr. Regier, and should be reinforced with dignity. At Arby’s, they do not slow down. Instead, they continue to innovate new menu items while holding true to what Arby’s is all about. Persistence in resolving their financial conflict has led to a 16 % growth in sales and a revenue growth of 25%.

After reading Dr. Regier’s book, you’ll be ready to embrace conflict rather than follow your fight-or-flight instincts. When we approach conflict with openness, resourcefulness, and perseverance, we can find solutions that are win-win, keep relationships intact, and reach new heights.

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