Resolving Conflicts In Your Business

Relationships - By: Iain Macfarlane
Business Coaching Article | Ten Principles of Leadership

One of the most critical elements I have found in the business world that prevents people from achieving greatness is ignoring problems at the "tap-tap" stage the initial stage when the person knows, or at least senses, that a conflict exists.
 
It doesn't matter who you are - business owner, corporate executive, CEO, parent, teenager, social worker, celebrity or everyday person - you can't reach your full potential unless you learn to deal with and quickly rid yourself of the fear of confrontation in conflict resolution.
 
A great number of people who do not deal with problematic situations in their business or personal lives develop a tendency to bury their emotions. In their own mind, they may believe they have not only addressed the problems but they have dealt with them as well. But that's a short-term solution that rarely solves anything.
 
What those people are really doing is developing a bad habit. They are still not dealing with the core of the complication and, over time, the quick-fix solution can manifest trouble of its own and lead to more extreme confrontational situations.
 
It's like getting hit by a 2x4 because you did not deal with the problem at the "tap-tap" stage; worse yet, delaying the 2x4 stage would be like getting hit by a big truck.  When you run from your problems, they only get bigger.
 
If you find yourself reacting to another person over the simplest problem in a frustrated, angry, defensive, distant manner, or you find yourself trying to escape by indulging in vices, it is most likely because of a past situation that has not been resolved.  You may be so used to it that you may not even be aware of why you are reacting in a particular way.
 
So why would you avoid a situation where you differ from another person?

You may feel insecure or intimidated by certain people when you disagree with them or they confront you.  It may make you uneasy to see other people emotionally upset, crying or talking loudly. But differences and confrontations are a part of life and occur in every business. How should you start to deal with this problem?
 
Here are some suggestions on how to approach confrontation and how to respond to emotionally charged situations:
 
Don't blow up or clam up; open up communication. Anger is not bad; it is what you do with it that is right or wrong. Anger just means that you are not happy with a situation. In your opinion, there is something that is not right, and it needs to be addressed. There are two negative reactions stemming from anger that shut down the communication: blowing up and clamming up.

When people "vent" and yell and raise their voice, it shuts down the communication. No one listens to a hot head, and no one likes to be yelled at or criticized. There is another response to anger that can also cut off the communication: clamming up. When a person sulks, holds grudges or just refuses to talk, the problem does not get addressed. Both reactions prevent dealing with the core issue. Instead, you need to speak your mind clearly, but with kindness and gentleness and in consideration of the other person's feelings.
 
Defuse emotion by being proactive, not reactive. There is no good reason to respond to an upset person in like kind. It takes two people to argue, and arguments do not solve problems, but instead drive people farther apart. You need to calm down and be in control of your emotions before working on a problem. Thank them for bringing the situation to your attention. You cannot fix what you don't understand. One of the best ways to diffuse anger from another person is to listen to them. Much anger and frustration stems from people feeling misunderstood, ignored or not cared for.
 
Seek first to understand and only then to be understood. Get a complete understanding of the problem from the other person's viewpoint, and then repeat that understanding back to him or her in your own words. Once you have restated that person's perspective in your own words, ask whether you have a correct understanding. Ask the other person to do the same.
 
Attack the problem, not the person. Once you have a clear understanding of the problem, look for areas of agreement before addressing the differences. Then you will have a basis to find solutions and resolutions where you differ. Often, just listening and understanding each other will resolve a problem. Invite the other person to help you find a solution. Look for win/win resolutions. Find out clearly what the other person wants, and clearly state what you want. Then work together to find a mutually satisfactory solution. There are many ways to solve any problem. Be innovative and creative. If necessary, find an outside mediator whom you both trust to facilitate the communication and a solution.
 
Consider talking through the situation with a neutral party to gain perspective and clarity from that person, and also to better understand the conflict. It is helpful to get a problem out in the open and to get input from people you trust.  They can help you better understand what you are going through and tell you, for better or worse, whether they think you have properly judged or handled the situation.
 
Abandon the concept of winning and losing. Instead, when faced with conflict, adopt a strategy of resolution. Unless you are on a battlefield, chances are the person you come into conflict with is not the enemy, but instead is someone whose goals are generally similar to yours, or at least interrelated with yours.
 
Avoid negative or confrontational language. Rather than "buts" and "you're wrongs," try using positive language that disarms rather than confronts, such as: "I understand your position..." or "I can see your point and here is where I'm coming from ..." Although war is part of our nature, most successful societies have been built on cooperation. Common goals are great unifiers. How many stories have you heard of strangers acting together in times of emergency? When a common goal is made obvious, the natural reaction is to put differences aside. Make a mutual commitment to the greater good.
 
Be flexible. Rather than approaching the conflict with the attitude of stopping it or overcoming it, think of redirecting the energy toward a common target. Look for similarities in your positions rather than focusing on your differences. When the other side senses that you are interested in finding a solution, you likely will have created an ally where a potential adversary once stood. Rather than confrontation and conflict, you can cooperate to find a solution that suits both sides.
 
Move to a private setting. Most people do not want an audience when discussing a problem that has upset them. Go to a place without the distraction and concern of uninvolved parties.
 
Don't be afraid of confrontation. Too many people become agitated out of fear when they encounter conflict or disagreement. This is unfortunate, as confrontation and conflict are a part of nature, a part of life. Unless you are a hermit, odds are you will have run into confrontational situations, as they are inescapable in business and personal life.

You need to approach confrontation calmly, as an expected part of dealing with others. Consider confrontation as a way of learning to see issues more clearly. And deal with confrontation immediately when you know or sense the "tap-tap."

Don't wait to be hit by a 2x4 or, even worse, by a big truck.