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The new rule of global business: Friction retards progress

Conflict in business tends to create winners and losers. In that scenario, there are no real winners at all in the long term.

James Cash Penney, one of the greatest entrepreneurs to come out of the United States, believed passionately that the keystone of a successful business was cooperation.

“Friction retards progress,” he insisted.

Penney, best known as the founder of the department store J.C. Penney in 1902 that still operates today, encouraged conflict resolution as one of the prime management skills and stressed the importance of communication long before it became a buzzword for business harmony.

In The Bridging PrinciplesTM, an intercultural communication program, conflict is perceived through the concept of different roles and different intentions within an organization or a culture.

In any negotiation, each person has an intent. Ideally, they clarify that intent to each other so that discussions can proceed reasonably and respectfully towards a mutual satisfaction.

But when one party feels their intent is being threatened, conflict can occur. That does not mean that it has to be a normal part of corporate life or community life.

If we allow ourselves to grow through shared intent and improved understanding, we may find ourselves more productive in the long run.

Essentially, conflict between cultures or corporations limits options because resolution tends to be packaged in terms of winners and losers.

Experience from Canada’s own history has taught us that when people with different intentions can discuss their differences calmly and openly, they are more apt to consider multiple options for resolution.

Friction, or conflict, as Penney aptly pointed out more than a century ago, means that people are rubbing each other the wrong way. They may be competing over roles within their culture or the anticipated negative consequences of changing roles. They may be unable to see how their differing intentions can find common ground.

Sometimes we revert to conflict out of failure to understand that our varying cultural backgrounds influence us to cling to certain beliefs about the social structures of our world. What one culture perceives as an unimportant concession may be a major adjustment to another culture. We are also greatly influenced by our past experiences and sometimes allow them to color our perception of the present moment.

Conflict can often avoided by knowledgeable guides who can lead both parties to an amicable place. Respect for differing points of view and acknowledgement of another’s intent is also an important component of effective resolution.

Sometimes roles can be redefined or even redistributed so that neither party has to surrender so much of what they see as themselves. In other circumstances, each party can move forward a few steps so that one party does not have to make the effort of the entire journey alone.

Overall, conflict is best resolved by conducting our business with sufficient mutual respect for each other that we work to understand each other’s intentions, roles, sacred places, and host families.


The Bridging Principles is a blog about doing business and life differently to create better results for all. Click here to subscribe for free. To pre-order a copy of the book “The Bridging Principles: Building Bridges for Business,” coming out soon, click here. To arrange for training in The Bridging Principles for your company, email

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