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How to Deal With Conflict in Business

In the working world, our codes of professionalism and sense of fair play mean that, for the most part, we tend to avoid conflict. However, there are inevitable moments when entrepreneurs have to resolve difficult situations. When emotions are high and there’s something important at stake, keeping your cool and finding the best outcome in a tense scenario can make a huge difference in the fortunes of your business.

One of the responsibilities of business ownership is rising above your own feelings and representing your brand in the best possible light, as well as managing your team so everyone is as happy and productive as possible. This makes conflict resolution a vital part of business know-how – but what if this skill doesn’t come naturally to you?

Below are a few tips on dealing with conflict in business, so you can always find a solution to any difficulty you encounter.

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Where does workplace conflict come from?

Conflict in a business setting can arise from a variety of sources. Within your team, two members of staff may have a personality clash and find it very difficult to get on. A member of staff you otherwise consider talented and conscientious may be a little hotheaded or over-confident, resulting in unprofessional conduct. A client or customer could be demanding or disrespectful, or a competitor may have stepped outside of usual social codes and behaved poorly – for example by leaving malicious online reviews or plagiarising your ideas.

With all the stress of running your own business to contend with, you may even find that you are the source of occasional conflict, should you let you temper boil over and become unreasonable – for example, by snapping at staff. It’s important to remember that it’s stress, fear and anger that often fuels these negative scenarios.

Setting and communicating your business boundaries

Whatever the source of your workplace difficulties, setting some ground rules can help immensely. For example, you may resolve that:

  • You will never raise your voice in a professional setting.
  • You will not tolerate disrespectful or aggressive behaviour from clients towards you or your staff.
  • All employees must conduct themselves politely.

When it’s clear what you expect from yourself and those who work around you, you can build a company culture where everyone knows the ground rules, and that there will be consequences for not adhering to them. For instance, by giving a rude and unreasonable customer fair warning at their first offense, they will be aware that any continuation of their undesirable behaviour could lead to the termination of your contract – no matter the inconvenience to them. There can be a impulse to try to retain clients at any cost, but if someone is draining your time and upsetting your staff, your business is truly better off without them.

This becomes a little more difficult when dealing with hostile competitors, but if someone has gone beyond the expected rough-and-tumble of competition, it is important to address the issue with confidence while still rising above their attempts at sabotage.

You could send an email, phone their workplace or speak to them in person and calmly explain that you are aware of their poor conduct, and that you expect it to stop. For many, the sheer embarrassment of being caught out will put an end to it. Defend yourself if necessary, for example by leaving replies to poor reviews explaining the situation. Retaliating in kind would only sully your own good name, so have faith in the superiority of your business shining through.

Creating an open and respectful atmosphere

As the head of your organisation, the responsibility of crafting a professional and respectful company culture falls to you. If you foster an open, friendly and appreciative atmosphere within your business, and lead by example, you make it harder for any confrontational situations to occur—dealing with the problem at the source.

This is formed through lots of different decisions in many different areas, from recruitment, to management, to staff wellbeing. At the most basic level, avoiding hiring people with an overly bullish and uncompromising attitude will help, but there are subtler tactics that will keep your workplace conflict-free. These include:

  • Thinking about corporate wellbeing. People who feel they are operating under intense pressure are far more likely to become frustrated, stressed and angry. All this makes them more impatient and less able to complete their tasks, which perpetuates their feelings of strain. By prioritising the health and happiness of your staff through good wellbeing practices, you can avoid conflict before it starts.
  • Making sure everyone knows their value to the organisation. The idea that an employee’s achievements are being ignored, or perceived favouritism, is the source of a lot of bad feeling at work. Communicate your appreciation to all your members of staff and clearly define their role, relating it to their particular skills. One source of tension at work is the “too many cooks” scenario, so make sure that everyone is aware of their particular responsibilities.
  • Accepting your role as a diplomat. Part of leading your team will be negotiating a truce between any members of staff who aren’t getting on. Talk to both separately in order to understand their point of view, encouraging both to see things from the other’s perspective. Then bring them together in a meeting and suggest ideas for moving forward – making it clear that any unpleasantness between them will no longer be tolerated.

Even if you are uncomfortable with conflict, by setting good practices in place, you’ll be far more able to deal with it effectively should it ever arise. 

Holly Ashby is a writer who works with Will Williams Meditation London, a meditation centre located in Soho which offers corporate wellbeing programs.

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