I know someone who always seems to have the worst luck with personal encounters. This person relates harrowing tales of being cut off by other drivers and nearly having an accident on a daily basis. This person is regularly aggrieved by others – slights of all types and magnitude. This person is opinionated and not the least bit shy about sharing views on a wide range of subjects, often causing discomfort for others. In short, this person lives in a constant state of conflict.
Conflict can be a healthy thing if it’s properly managed. But I sure don’t want to live there. Some people dread and avoid conflict as much as others seem to constantly be embroiled in it. As entrepreneurs it’s next to impossible to completely avoid situations where conflict may arise. And trying to do so may damage our relationships if we fail to be genuine and authentic for the sake of what we perceive as “keeping the peace.” So just how should we manage conflict in a healthy manner? I have learned through experience that there are four elements to managing conflict.
First, we must never play the victim. Conflict begins when we give someone else our power by letting our feelings be hurt or believe that we are being taken advantage of in some way. These feelings bubble up and our resentment builds as we buy into this story that we are telling ourselves. It’s critical that we break this cycle before it starts thereby allowing us to avoid wallowing in and exaggerating the fiction that we have created. Of course there may be instances where someone really is trying to hurt us and take advantage of us. But if we don’t give our power away the perpetrator won’t be able to escalate the conflict.
Second, maintaining a positive attitude is critical to successfully managing conflict. After we eliminate any stray feelings of victimization we need to shift into a 100% positive frame of mind as quickly as possible. Our positive energy is vital to creating the end result that we desire. Think about it. Are we more likely to end up in a good place with negative energy or positive energy? The choice is pretty simple.
Third, we stay in “fact mode.” Let’s assume for a moment that the conflict involves an employee who has accused you of showing favoritism to another employee. The accuser is so upset that he has pleaded his case to a number of his co-workers, causing a minor uproar in the organization. You know this guy is flat wrong but you resist the temptation to feel like a victim and take offense that your integrity and leadership is being impugned. You choose to stay positive and move directly into the fact finding mode. You have a calm and non-accusatory conversation with the angry employee to find out specifically why he believes you are showing favoritism. Perhaps the facts lead you to the realization that this person misunderstood a key piece of information that led to his misperception. You are easily able to share the real facts and quickly defuse the situation.
Finally, we must know when to compromise when appropriate. It’s easy when we know we’re right to become entrenched in our position and dig in our heels. And it might be just as easy to say something like, “I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” even if we truly aren’t at fault. I do not advocate compromising our core values or our principles. But sometimes it’s better to offer the olive branch when neither is at stake. The conflict may quickly de-escalate at that point and our leadership may be admired and respected.
Managing conflict can be a positive opportunity to build relationships. Entrepreneurs should embrace this opportunity by not playing the victim card; staying positive; pursuing the facts and compromising when it makes sense to do so.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.