Studies suggest that many business owners spend as much as 40 percent of their time dealing with conflicts big and small. But such problems sap energy and pummel productivity. Whether the battles involve employees, vendors or contractors, getting issues resolved quickly is critical not only for your peace of mind, but for your bottom line, too.
Some conflict, of course, is normal and perhaps even healthy. It’s a simple fact that disagreements, disputes and honest differences exist everywhere.
For small business owners and entrepreneurs, however, the key is this: By treating conflicts as catalysts for increasing energy and productivity, you can turn them from negatives into positives.
Here are five ways to turn workplace conflicts into something constructive:
1. Open with an icebreaker: Most people are ready to complain, debate or argue at the outset of any conflict. They’ve conjured up their best arguments and are ready for battle. For best results, don’t go straight to the topic of the controversy. That will only get people stuck in their positions. Instead, try something different. What you need is a way to open a conversation about difficult issues in a non-threatening way.
An icebreaker is not idle chit-chat, but a smooth transition. For example, the ideal opener might ask for a person’s own take on something both work-related and positive. For example, if the conflict is between two workers involved in the same project, ask each of them how they became involved and what they hoped to achieve.
2. Listen closely. Sometimes what you don’t say is more important than what you do. Good outcomes come from listening carefully to others. This sends a positive message that you are genuinely concerned. And it’s simply the best way to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. To get this going, ask an open-ended question – something that requires a thoughtful answer. Then listen carefully to that person’s side of the story. Quickly re-insert yourself into the discussion if it turns negative.
3. Use and encourage positive language: Any conflict-weary business owner knows how easy it can be to slip into negativity after an argument erupts. Always think before you speak. Remember, it’s a conversation, not a trial. If you keep the language positive, whoever you speak to will likely mirror what you’re doing. Even the needs of the business can be expressed in positive terms, which will lead to a better tone overall. For example you can say, “This is affecting the entire business, and we need to address it so we can get everyone focused back on our goals.” When you keep things positive, you can work toward great solutions efficiently and effectively.
4. Don’t just be a mediator. Many small business owners and managers try to be neutral party mediators in workplace conflicts when in fact that’s not their role. Your obligation is to the interests of the business and others who work there, and you need a combination of skills, structure and finesse to express (and impose) your own view on how things need to be.
5. Aim for SMART conflict solutions: Your goal is not just to defuse a situation in the near term, but to come up with a sustainable answer to the problem. That requires the so-called SMART approach that has the following qualities:
- Specific: Be clear about who will do what, when, where and how.
- Measurable: Establish a way to tell that something has been done, achieved or completed.
- Achievable: Whatever solution you come up with needs to fit the situation and be doable by those involved. In short, don’t set anyone up to fail.
- Realistic: Check calendars for holidays and vacations; look at past performance to predict future actions and allow time for glitches and delays.
- Timed: Set reasonable deadlines and target dates and provide necessary tools and support to meet those targets.
And one more thing: Once you have your solutions, put them in writing so everyone remembers what they agreed to.
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