resolving conflict

Resolving conflict with confidence

by Angus Jones

Most of us know that a key aspect of leadership involves influencing others, but what many don’t see behind the scenes is that much of the day-to-day work of a leader is resolving conflict. Small business owners usually deal with conflict by themselves, which can be stressful and tiring. If you own your own business, you must sharpen your communication and conflict resolution skills to avoid wasting resources that are better spent on helping your business flourish.

Even if your workplace is generally harmonious, you will inevitably experience situations where conflicts arise that need to be resolved, and you will most likely dread it. When this happens, you may find yourself procrastinating over a difficult conversation, experience trepidation when you sense conflict is coming, or be lost for words when you are directly confronted.

One of the reasons we avoid difficult conversations is that we have not learned the key skills of communicating our point in a way that gets heard by the other person. With the right approach, though, you can resolve conflicts confidently in the workplace.

When you are in a conflict situation, your brain sees this as a threat, and it is designed to narrow your view for survival, focusing only on what matters to you. This habit of the brain is what makes it difficult to consider anything other than your own point of view in the heat of the moment

This is the point where conflict can escalate: when two people both defend their fixed points of view and are at loggerheads with no way out. It’s like two bulls fighting, pushing against the other, as both are convinced they are right, and the other person does not get their point of view.

Workplace conflicts are inevitable, but they don’t have to be destructive. All entrepreneurs make mistakes – successful ones learn from them. Small business owners who deal with conflicts, struggles, and disagreements in the workplace have greater strength and knowledge to power their business.

So, what’s the secret to confidently resolving conflict? Listening.

Active listening allows you to approach a conflictual conversation with questions and an open mind, rather than demands, allowing the other person to express what is most important to them and feel heard in return. Sounds simple, but it is a skill that can take some practice to get right. 

Here are a few more practical tools for small business owners for a productive conversation:

  • Think ahead – make a few notes about the issue you’d like to cover and stick to the facts rather than opinions. Examples are helpful!
  • Start by framing the issue and the impact of the problem at the beginning of the discussion using non-blaming statements.
  • Take time out if things heat up – this will help reduce your stress response, so your brain does not perceive the other person as a direct threat.
  • Respond to their points with empathy – calmly, sticking to the facts, and making clear requests of the other person.
  • Share the task of looking for solutions, focusing on cultivating an open conversation and exploring ways to resolve the issue that offers an opportunity to create shared outcomes and success.

You may find you need to repeat this process a few times to undo the automatic habit of perceiving conflict as a threat. Still, these practical tools can be a helpful guide in learning to resolve conflict with confidence.

This guide was written by Associate Professor Be Pannell, Course Leader MBA at the Australian College of Applied Professions.

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