While conflict can lead to positive outcomes, on the whole it is best avoided. It’s good to talk. Discussion is often the best answer when there are differing needs and beliefs and, when handled well, conflicting ideas can be an opportunity to better understand issues and to learn from each other.

But when left unaddressed or mishandled, differing needs and beliefs can build and worsen, leading to relationship breakdowns, reduced morale and motivation and human and financial cost. When conflict arises, there is usually emotion involved and these emotions can increase in intensity and complexity the longer the conflict remains unresolved.

I have not followed the conflict long enough or closely enough to know who is right or who is wrong in the dispute of Australia’s largest poultry producer Baiada, or indeed how much discussion there has actually been to find common ground. What I have seen is that an awful lot of negative publicity is being generated there and, I would image, growing ill-will.

A recent press release on the website of Australia’s National Union of Workers was headed “Police ordered to bust through peaceful picket line at Baiada”. This was followed by: “On Friday night, at about 11 p.m., a peaceful crowd of members and community picketers were ambushed by police at the call of Baiada”.

Disrespect, bullying, intimidation, repression and references to a decapitated worker all appear in the union’s statements. None of this is good for Baiada’s reputation or that of the wider poultry industry.


Making it right  

While the services of the country’s independent national workplace relations tribunal – Fair Work Australia – have been called in, at the time of writing, the two sides seem to be a long way from agreement. I emphasize that I am in no position to favour either side, but something seems to have gone seriously wrong in the relationships at Baiada.

Such conflicts often occur when people believe that their needs are being ignored or that their views and opinions are not valued. When there is open and regular communication, however, relationships of trust can built and there can be the expectation that concerns and expectations can be worked through. Voices need to heard, emotions need to be calmed.

I hope that there is still the opportunity to talk – and to listen – at Baiada. Whatever our roles may be, in whatever industry, it is always worth making the extra effort to make our views known, but it is equally important to listen – and to really hear – the views of others.