You don’t have to love conflict, just don’t avoid it
We’ve all encountered the solo practitioners, fellow freelancers, or small business owners who run from conflict. They avoid. They don’t return calls. They let unpaid invoices go. They let previously solid partnerships wither away.
Maybe we have met these people…and they are us.
Conflict isn’t easy but with a few new perspectives, a little know-how, and ongoing practice, it is manageable. In short order, we can even learn not simply to handle conflict but to transform it into opportunities, strengthened relationships, and an improved business environment. And to transform ourselves into better businesspeople and better humans along the way.
Here are 40 ideas to help you master this rocky terrain.
Conflict between people is normal. Accept and get comfortable with that fact. Don’t add conflict to conflict by arguing with reality.
Conflict between people is inevitable. Learn to identify it for what it is and open up real-world benefits.
You don’t have to embrace conflict to handle it effectively — start by not avoiding it unnecessarily.
Yet, not all conflict has to be handled. Remember counting to ten buys you calm and perspective. You can also do nothing for three days and see if a situation happens to resolve itself or disappear.
Peter Bregman in 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done has another Rule of 3 that’s useful for wrangling conflict: Don’t let something go three times without talking about it. Say an employee, a vendor, or a friend does something that bugs you or strikes you as off or inappropriate. The first time it happens, simply be aware of it. The second time it happens, note that it has happened again and you don’t like it for some reason. The third time it happens, it’s a trend. Have a talk about it. The beauty of this very useable formula is that with three times you have evidence to draw on, but you have not let something go on so long that your frustrations have built up. It’s just the right time to have an open discussion about what you’ve noticed and if/what changes could be made going forward.
While a conflict may involve two people, it often takes only one person to dismantle it. You can simply walk away from a conflict. You can change your own perspective and behavior and steer a different course. You can begin noticing what you like about a difficult person in your orbit rather than what you don’t, and rewarding and reinforcing the positives in them. This latter item, in fact, is one of the seven top secrets of happiness according to brain researcher Dr. Daniel G. Amen.
Reframe what’s in front of you with a Taoist take: You may not be having a conflict, but rather an experience on a path you have chosen.
According to the Tao of Negotiation, “Whatever you avoid, disown, or are unwilling to deal with is going, sooner or later, to run your life.” We can’t run from conflict or it will run us. Accept what it is, who we are, where we’re at, and create with intention and a different attitude what’s next and what’s better.
Conflict doesn’t have to be loud or harsh or aggressive or emotionally disturbing to be conflict.
Conflict may simply represent people’s different perspectives.
Conflict may exist when parties have different interests.
Conflict is an opportunity to recognize the individual manifestation of humanity that is the other person.
Conflict is an opportunity for two parties to find common ground and learn more about each other in the process.
Conflict is an opportunity to forge creative win-win solutions that can expand options for both sides.
Thinking there are no choices or no routes out of a mess is a stuck place and a false one. Become aware of this limiting belief and begin focusing what all could be possible, even what might be ideal.
Conflict may be enduring and recurring. Sometimes, there is no conflict resolution, only conflict management.
One way to prevent conflict in situations you know to be contentious from past experience is to prepare for small talk.
Good customer service encompasses your ability to diffuse and defuse conflict, make the other party whole, and preserve, even strengthen, a relationship.
People will know, like, and trust you more after you’ve successfully resolved a conflict with them.
By the logic of “we only learn to love by loving,” we only learn to manage conflict by managing conflict. Jump into the fray…it’s not so bad.
Hold the space for the conflict to play out. Hold the space for friction. Hold the space for resolution.
Know what you want out of a conflict’s resolution before you begin managing it.
Manifest the outcome you desire from putting a conflict to rest. “Manifestation is about creating a vision for the future, putting energy and intention into making that vision a reality, and then aligning your thoughts, emotions, and actions accordingly so that your vision can come into fruition,” Denise Fournier, PhD, LMHC, a psychotherapist in Miami said in a recent Self magazine article on if manifesting really works.
Handling conflict is one way of learning to draw appropriate boundaries. You also have a perspective and interests to consider, defend, and promote. Practice protecting what matters to you and negotiating around places where you’re more able to give.
Add to the so-called “soft” skills of business, soften skills. Learn how to de-escalate a situation. Start taking it down a notch and turn down the temperature by literally softening your words, your tone, your body.
People can harden their first thought into a firm position without meaning to; minimize this by not putting them on the defensive.
Build up the other person even when you disagree to reduce tension and increase odds of working something out. Monica Guzmán, author of I Never Thought of It That Way, recommends such things as: sharing partial, in-the-moment “snapshot” opinions (vs. hardened ones), listening longer, recognizing where there’s agreement, acknowledging good points made by the other side, and admitting you don’t know when you don’t.
In a recent email newsletter, author Eric Barker noted that most of the principles laid out in Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, have since been supported by social science research — with one notable exception: “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” While we may have empathy and mindsight, it turns out that humans stink at taking another’s point of view. What’s better than thinking you know what another person is thinking? Barker’s email didn’t say, but based on the fundamentals of coaching and commonsense, I’m going to say it’s simply asking others about themselves and what they’re thinking. Then listening.
When you don’t know what to do, think, or say in a conflict, there’s always listening. Listen to yourself and listen to others. In Say What You Mean: A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication, author Oren Jay Sofer offers three fundamentals of heartfelt communication: “1. Lead with presence. 2. Come from curiosity and care. 3. Focus on what matters.”
Build legal protections into your business as needed. Sometimes the pros are required.
As for specific conflicts, as with a landlord, don’t panic. There are no-cost and low-cost ways to settle disputes with your landlord and other distinct situations.
Be aware that some people are negotiating all the time, even when there’s no formal negotiation or anything apparent at stake. They are using honed techniques to gain advantage, in any situation or relationship, any advantage at all that may be hanging around for the taking.
Conflict-seeking behavior has many sources, including habit, trauma, and ADD. Make some allowances for such and muster up a generosity of spirit when you can.
“Mr. Rogers did not adequately prepare me for the people in my neighborhood” reads an awesome new meme I saw on Facebook this week. Yet, Mr. Rogers had deep wells of simple wisdom we can all draw on when dealing with difficult others. Clinical psychologist Lindsay C. Johnson, PsyD, names some of these Rogerian nuggets in Self-Care for Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: Let people be who they are…and just let them be. Provide them safety and comfort. Treat people as if they were worthy and delightful and real on the inside — and experience them that way when you can.
According to studies of mediators, gaining the trust and confidence of the other side is the top skill needed for eventually resolving conflict. How do you gain this trust? In order: Your friendliness and empathy, your honesty and integrity, and your being prepared and informed as relevant.
That same study showed that once you gained another’s or others’ confidence, the next most important skills for problem-solving success were process-related: patience, persistence, and not giving up too soon; useful evaluations, reality checks, and active engagement; and asking good questions and listening carefully.
If you have the chance to resolve a conflict by mediation, take it! Having firsthand experience of the mediation model will open your mind in new ways to skills, strategies, and alternative philosophies around dispute resolution.
Adopting Slow Business practices may reduce conflict both by slowing things down and inserting time for forethought and by focusing business on things that matter.
Solidify a business relationship post-conflict by doing someone a favor. It signals goodwill, a return to “peace,” and an interest in moving on.