Most business owners hate conflict. As a result, they shy away from firing employees, changing vendors and dismissing customers that hold their company back. This makes for weak leaders. Successfully managing disagreements are an inevitable part of growing any business. Like everything else, resolving conflict is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced over and over again no matter how painful it is.
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It is important to be able to look at any conflict from at least two different points of view. Here are three easy steps to resolve any business conflict—and a few personal ones too:
1. Ask “If we are able to resolve this conflict, what does success look like?”
This will allow each party to state their goals and the end result they need to be satisfied. Many times, both parties actually have similar goals, but are striving to reach it in different ways. If after asking this question, the two goals are mutually exclusive, then this is a good signal that resolution will be difficult to achieve. In this case, separation or termination is the best path.
2. Ask “What is going well in the relationship?”
Ask this question next in order to make both parties aware that there are things that are actually work that can form the basis for a relationship or mutual gain going forward. It is often the most surprising part of the process on how much people actually agree!
3. Ask “What is not going well in the relationship?”
This now allows the real disagreement to come out in a more measured and “civilized” fashion. It is alright at this stage if there needs to be some accusations and ranting in order to get that pent up frustration out. Many times, things are said that have been held on to by one of the parties for many years. While not discouraging it, allow a limited period of time for this discussion so it does not dominate the entire conversation. The answers to this question will focus the real and hidden issues.
Based on these answers, a solution can usually be mapped out. Document the solution and give each party time to review it. An agreement today sometimes falls apart overnight when each party realizes the answers they gave are not the real ones and the questions have to be answered again. This is not necessarily a bad thing and these three questions may need to be asked to the two parties multiple times to get the true answers and find a suitable resolution.
While this process does not always bring agreement, it does bring resolution. Sometimes deciding that the two parties can’t do business together is also a desired result. Allowing each business to disengage and move forward is a positive step. Being stuck in an unresolved conflict does not serve either party.
How do you resolve business conflicts?