Bridging differences requires skill

by Brian Ganson: Senior researcher with the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, where he leads the initiative on Business, Peace & Prosperity.
The more diverse stakeholders are and the greater their number, the tougher collaboration becomes. It loses momentum when we agree in theory but don’t have the means to implement our ideas in practice. Just when we most need them to understand what’s important to us, it requires us to pay close attention to what really matters to them. Power differences undermine our working relationships. And collaboration is slow, often requiring us to commit to working together long before we experience positive results.

Where high levels of inequality fuel divisions, collaboration across race, class and sectoral divides is even trickier. Creating jobs, improving education, or reforming government force us to confront what has separated us as well as what unites us. It is not surprising that, as the Commission observes, “while virtually everyone agrees that creating jobs is the country’s most pressing challenge, there is no agreement on what to do about it” – or how to work together to find a way forward.

Our research and experience at the USB’s Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement indicate that, in light of such challenges, it is not enough to have the will to collaborate – though that’s a good foundation. It also takes skill.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the parties responsible for negotiating the new South African constitution – despite the enormity of the task and the pressures on their time and attention – took time to study new ways of bridging their differences. They understood the value of building their individual and collective capabilities for dialogue, negotiation, and collaboration, and honed their skills. Indeed, the story of how South Africans applied what they learned to bring about the ‘miracle transition’ is taught to students of collaboration around the world.

Useful resources:
Stellenbosch Business School
The internationally accredited Stellenbosch Business School offers MBA, Master’s, MPhil and PhD programmes as well as executive education programmes – all focused on the development of business leadership.
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