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Conflict Resolution

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Two people, formally dressed, being mediated by a third coworker.

Image of two formally dressed men shaking handsAs much as we might want it to, conflict rarely goes away on its own. You’ve seen it bubble up from customers, a staff member or a supplier. And yet, your success depends on being able to maintain a working relationship with them. That’s why it’s important for small business owners to be able to deal with it. So sharpen those conflict resolution skills by looking at these helpful tips.

Ignoring conflict or dealing with it ineffectively, can damage your business. It can lead to lower productivity, potential legal action, or damage to your brand. Consider these ideas to better manage conflict in your small business.

Start with a Plan

Part of dealing with conflict is preparing for it. Having a plan in place gives all the parties a sense of security. They know they will be heard. Start by defining the problem and collecting the facts. Next clarify perceptions—look at it from the other person’s point of view. Then consider alternate win/win solutions. Finally, determine who will make the final decision. Ideally it is by consensus but it might require an outside mediator.

Decide If It’s a Misunderstanding or Disagreement

When you don’t understand another’s point of view, you have a misunderstanding. When that happens, it’s important to make the facts known quickly, before tensions escalate. A disagreement is failure to agree, even though you have the true facts. It involves changing someone’s mind. That requires more discussion and negotiation.

Check the Temperature

A conflict might be brewing that you aren’t even aware of. So actively seek out the emotional temperature of your stakeholders. For example, use customer surveys with questions about your products and services. If you get negative feedback, contact him or her to discuss it. Just the act of proactively talking with a customer helps to address their concerns before they get bigger.

Choose the Right Channel

Think about the way you respond to conflict. Some channels may be better than others. For example, it may be quick to send an email but your message may be misinterpreted with the words you use. And you miss out on the nonverbal feedback. If you want to use email, use it to acknowledge that there is an issue and offer to follow up with a more direct channel like a face-to-face meeting.

Recognize your Own Triggers

Sometimes the conflict is you, not the other person. It might be the result of past experiences that bias how you interpret a new situation. For example, a teacher may have unfairly called you out in front of your classmates. That triggers a negative reaction each time someone gives you feedback. Recognizing your hot buttons can help you step back. Is it really the current conflict and is it baggage from the past?

Don’t Try to Eliminate It

The goal is not to eliminate all conflict. A certain amount of conflict can be helpful to consider alternate points of view. Working through conflict requires that people collaborate and come up with creative solutions. That creates better work teams. You can help by facilitating that conversation. Ensure that everyone has a chance to voice their viewpoint and that they are heard.

Conflict can have a negative impact on your small business. But knowing how to manage it can help you contain the damage and potentially strengthen how you relate to customers, your staff, and suppliers.

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