Welcome Guest Blogger, Ed Friel, sharing the ultimate of conflict management.

How Spiral Impact Helped me Keep My Job and Probably Saved My Life

Think of a deranged Danny DeVito. That was Mr. Earl Mauldine, owner of Mauldine Freight Lines, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. And right now, I’m in Mr. Earl’s office, and he’s screaming at me, his face livid as he orders me out of his office and off his property.

I’m the Division Manager for Canada for Cummins Diesel Engines. Most of Mr. Earl’s fleet of 800 trucks are Cummins powered Ford Heavy Duty tractors. Two hundred of those are new, and he’s experiencing a 30% failure rate of these new engines, resulting in lost freight revenue, stranded drivers, and irate customers. He wants things fixed….now! Behind the scenes, Ford and Cummins are pointing the finger of blame at one another. Neither company accepts responsibility, and Mr. Earl is exasperated. Last week, a Ford representative was in Mr. Earl’s office, and a furious Mr. Earl took a handgun from his desk drawer, slammed it on the desktop. The gun went off; the bullet hitting the wall less than a foot from the Ford rep.

Now, I’m in Mr. Earl’s office. I can find no words that will placate this man. In his mind, I have the power to make a financial decision that will make his problem go away, and I won’t do it. I see Mr. Earl start to reach for his desk drawer, fully aware of the gun there, and that Mr. Earl is out of control. Capable of shooting me in a blind rage.

I don’t know what made me do it, but behind Mr. Earl’s desk is an oil painting of an older couple. The painting was hanging slightly crooked. Without saying a word, I stepped around Mr. Earl and, with my back to him, straightened the painting.

With my back still to him, I realized that Mr. Earl had stopped screaming. I turned, and he was just staring at me, his mouth open….his hands at his side. No gun in sight.

In a quiet voice, I asked “Mr. Earl, who are these people”?

Mr. Earl replied, after a few seconds silence “they’re my parents”. His face had softened; he had an almost quizzical expression. There was no anger now. I wondered to myself ‘what the Hell just happened’?

Mr. Earl began to tell me about his parents. How his father had started the trucking company, hauling fish from Montreal to New York. Then he asked me about my family. I told him about my wife, daughter and 9 year old son, a goalie on his hockey team. Mr. Earl opened his closet door and produced a hockey stick, signed by all the players on the Montreal Canadiens. “I own me a little hockey team. Take one of these for your boy”.

As I took the stick I said, “but Mr. Earl, one name is missing”. Mr. Earl frowned and said “whatta you mean”? I replied “your name, Mr. Earl. Your name isn’t on here”.

I swear, tears welled up in Mr. Earl’s eyes, and he took a pen from his desk and signed the stick. Son Matt still has that hockey stick in his Denver home office.

Spiral Impact. That’s ‘what the H—’ happened when I turned away from Mr. Earl and reached for the painting. I Spiral Impacted him. I changed the dynamic in that room by moving around him, and he let me take control. (Note: Karen, change, edit, do whatever is necessary to make this fit your theme).

For nearly 35 years I’ve wondered “what the H— I did” to change the dynamic in that Montreal office to keep Mr. Earl away from that gun. As I related this story to my colleague, Karen Valencic, she explained to me how Spiral Impact works. I know now that Spiral Impact works to change the odds in favor of those who understand the concept, or those few who just stumble into it.

Ed is my colleague at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN.  He also the author of The Lighter Side of Rectal Surgery available http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/ed-frielstore=book