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Finding a balance

July 23, 2012

A recent court case regarding the ‘unlawful killing’ of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson provided a useful lesson for contract and relationship managers.

The trial revolved around whether a London policeman had used unreasonable force when he pushed Mr. Tomlinson (an innocent passer-by) during anti-globalization protests in 2010.  The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, but in a post-trial statement their lawyer suggested that the family may now pursue a civil action.

His words were interesting, because they focused mainly on the family’s frustration that there had been no apology by the police. He implied that further legal action is contingent upon some acknowledgement of wrong-doing and a sense of contrition. This reflects the sentiments of many (such as those who suffered tainted blood transfusions) when they feel that a wrong has been done, yet has not been recognized.

For the contract or relationship manager, similar situations often arise and present a dilemma. During its performance, many contracts leave one party or the other feeling that they have been unfairly treated or wronged. What happens next requires fine judgment by the offending party (who may not actually feel that they have offended in the first place). An ill-timed acknowledgement could result in an effective admission of guilt and be used in later proceedings. Yet a denial or lack of empathy may make those proceedings more likely.

Skilled contract and relationship managers are sensitive to such situations and seek to defuse emotions before they build. An adversarial or combative approach cannot yield long-term beneficial results. It is key that we remember the potential cost of a short-term victory on the overall relationship – and that a party who feels wronged will continue to seek satisfaction or revenge.

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