Dealing With Conflict

Remember a few months ago when I wrote, “Nothing about building a business is perfect. It’s messy and stressful. Very few things will happen according to plan”? Well, one of the messiest and most stressful components of building a business, especially in its early stages, is conflict. It’s bound to happen, whether it be with new employees, customers and clients, or suppliers. 

The trap many new business owners fall into is shying away from conflict—a natural reaction since we don’t want to make waves with the people that help our business run smoothly and generate profit. However, conflict is nothing to fear, and it sure isn’t something you should avoid. 

Conflict in business is healthy and presents an opportunity for growth as a business, and as a business owner. Sorry to say it, but your ideas are not always the best, you may not always be the smartest person in the room, and you definitely won’t always be right. Conflict can help you decipher the smartest way to move forward. 

Albeit, handling conflict adequately is important. After all, as I said before, if handled inappropriately, it can result in a dip in profit or, God forbid, negative reviews. To make the best out of a bad situation, there are a few things to keep in mind the next time you end up in a “Can I speak to your manager?” moment:

Listen and Remain Calm

Communication is key. Yes, it is a cliche, but it’s true in almost every human interaction and is essential when it comes to handling conflict. In a negative situation, both verbal and non-verbal communication matters. 

Whether you’re dealing with a conflict between employees, a client, or a supplier, each individual must be given a chance to speak their mind and their emotions. If face to face, try to remain conscious of your body language, as a rogue eye roll, scowl, or tensing of your muscles can send the wrong message and worsen the situation. 

In the heat of the moment, it may be difficult not to interrupt someone if you feel as though they are insulting you, your business, or your employees. Remember that they too are most likely speaking out of frustration and that their words shouldn’t define your business, but also remain open to the possibility that, even in anger, they’re giving you valuable ways to grow. 

Acknowledge Their Concern and Frustration

Another cliche: the customer is always right. You might be thinking, “But are they really?”, and that’s valid, but yes—well, kind of. 

When it comes to the way a customer feels, they are always right. Whether their feelings are justified or not (at least in your eyes) is beyond the point. What matters is that they are unhappy with the service you are offering, and that should be addressed and dealt with sympathetically. The same principle applies to employees or suppliers who are unhappy: their feelings matter and should be handled respectably. 

Address their concerns with a sincere apology (in case you missed it, I wrote all about apologizing correctly here), and then work to come to an agreement so that both you and the frustrated individual walk away happy.

For example, after apologizing, offer the frustrated customer a discounted or free service/product, or refund them for their trouble. If you’re dealing with an upset employee, assure them that their concerns will be dealt with, and then deal with them. 

Some Final Thoughts

In short, conflict doesn’t need to be equated to disaster, and therefore you shouldn’t avoid it. What’s more, avoiding conflict can lead to worse conflicts if the upset individuals feel as though their concerns aren’t being taken seriously. It’s better to confront conflict head on than have it blow up in your face later. So, communicate, listen, acknowledge negative feelings, and then do something to put it right. And, most importantly, leave your ego at home and grow from it. 

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