Avoiding Bad Conflict

We’re continuing the discussion we had with Elayne Fluker on her podcast, Support is Sexy, about conflict.   

Question:  We’ve been talking about a well-managed conflict. What about avoiding bad conflict?

Cornelia:  The most important thing to do to avoid conflict is to set expectations early – with employees, associates, and any other business partner.  Make sure the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. With employees, make sure they know at the beginning of the employment relationship – this is what their job looks like and this is what you expect them to do to meet the responsibilities of their position. If you’re bringing in outside support, make sure everything they are expected to do is outlined and well defined.  

Question:  Should you have an agreement of some sort in writing.

Barbara: That goes to expectations. I like to have a conversation first and then put it in writing – you confirm what you talked about. For example, “As we agreed, this is what I’m going to do and this is what you’re going to do and this is our timeline.” You have clarity and can hold each other accountable. You’re not being legalistic, but if I’ve committed to something and I’m not going to get it done in time, I need to let the other person know – something’s happened – let’s renegotiate those deadlines.  If you have your expectations in writing you have something to refer to, especially if things are not going well.  You can point to it and say, “You agreed to do this and you’re not holding up your end of the bargain.”

Cornelia:  I heard someone once say that she had gone through a contentious divorce and that you don’t think about setting a contract before you get married.  She was referring to working things out – who hadn’t kept up their part of the bargain.  She brought the concept into her business dealings, especially working with teams – insisting on setting ground rules and guidelines.  That’s what we’re talking about.  If you have guidelines or rules of engagement written down everyone can commit to them.

Question:  When it comes to addressing conflict, what do you see as some of the mistakes or common mistakes that people make?

Barbara: I think people often have trouble just articulating that this isn’t going well without getting emotional.  If you can keep emotions out of it and simply say, “This is what we agreed to and it’s not going the way we thought it was going to and we need to fix it,” you can address what’s wrong.  Another mistake is letting things go to long thinking it’ll get better – “I’ll give it another week.” Well, by a week later things could have exploded and it’s too late.  Catch things early, be aware of your emotions, and remind yourself this is business and we’ll deal with this in a business way and hopefully maintain a positive relationship.

Cornelia:  People sometimes become overly concerned about the relationship – wanting to avoid hurting someone’s feelings if they say something or do something. You can deliver a negative message in a positive way without it getting personal. Go back to the facts of what happened – keep it as a factual, business issue.

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