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  • Writer's picturesarah bays

Unexpected Lessons in Conflict Resolution from Laurel and Hardy

Unraveling the Comedy of Conflict: Navigating Misunderstandings for Lasting Solutions

In a pre-mediation session recently a lovely gentleman client told me the story of a Laurel and Hardy film that struck me as being a brilliant analogy for how conflict can spiral out of control with disastrous consequences.  It demonstrates perfectly how an unintentional act can be misunderstood as having been meant to cause hurt or harm, often resulting in real loss or damage to either or both parties through simple misinterpretation.

Stan and Ollie in conflict

The Comedy of Miscommunication

In the 1929 film Big Business written by H. M. Walker, Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen who get into an escalating feud with a grumpy would-be customer (played by James Finlayson).  Refusing their repeated attempts to force a sale, as he slams the door there’s some confusion involving coats and the tree getting repeatedly stuck in his door as he slams it requiring repeated bell-ringings.

This initial miscommunication sets the tone for the escalating conflict. Instead of resolving the issue through communication, the characters respond with retaliatory actions.

The Destructive Path of Retaliation

As the scene progresses, the conflict transforms from a simple sales dispute into a tit-for-tat exchange of destruction, leading to the would-be customer destroying the tree and Laurel and Hardy retaliating by damaging his doorframe with a knife. 

The pinnacle of the conflict occurs when Finlayson annihilates Laurel and Hardy's car, while Stan and Ollie retaliate by wrecking every aspect of Finlayson's house.

Lessons for Real-Life Conflict Resolution

This genius piece of slapstick film serves as a poignant illustration of how conflicts, fueled by misunderstandings, can quickly spiral out of control with devastating consequences. The initial miscommunication between the salesmen and the grumpy customer sets off a chain reaction of retaliatory actions, transforming a simple refusal of a product (in this case the Christmas tree) into a destructive exchange. The escalation demonstrates the absurdity of allowing misunderstandings to fester without communication, ultimately leading to significant losses for all parties involved. In the end, the comedic element of the situation highlights the exaggerated nature of the conflict, serving as a cautionary tale about the importance of conflict resolution through open and clear communication to prevent the loss of what each party holds dear.

In the real world where our “Christmas Tree” might be something of far greater significance, for example a job we love, our business reputation or a relationship we value, addressing conflict early is fundamental to avoid irreparable damage and huge loss to all concerned. 

So if you are involved in a conflict, don't let it get out of control like Stan and Ollie, book a free discovery session and let's discuss how we can work together to resolve your dispute swiftly and effectively for all concerned.


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