True story: There were three men operating a small exporting business (we’ll call it XYZ, LLP). XYZ would procure and ship U.S.-made equipment and supplies to companies and governments in other countries.
They came across a potentially lucrative opportunity to provide some materials to the government of a foreign country, but U.S. export laws prohibited shipping those particular materials to that particular country.
One of the partners found a way around the export rule that was shady, at best. He wanted to accept the contract and use his new method to collect a very large profit. The other two partners strongly objected.
Nobody enjoys conflict. It is never pleasant to be around people involved in misunderstandings or clashes of one kind or another.
But, conflicts should never be ignored. To avoid festering and minimize resentments, they need to be dealt with head on and immediately, before they have the opportunity to grow into major issues.
Here are several suggestions for dealing with conflict, and a lesson learned from XYZ’s experience.
What do you really need?
What does success look like to you? Does it need to be tied to the issue you are haggling over, or can it be achieved in a different manner where both parties are satisfied?
Know the other side
When you know the personalities and needs of the person on the opposite side of the table, you will be better able to craft an effective response.
If the person you are dealing with is an analytical type who likes to be in control, address the situation in real, no-nonsense words – analytically and objectively communicate your stance. On the other hand, if the person is more sensitive and loyal, provide friendly, positive feedback and appeal to the higher standard of unity and responsibility.
Understand the other point of view
After you have a clear idea of what you really need, you can consider what Dr. Steven Covey famously said: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Consider the viewpoint from the opposite side of the table. This can be done effectively through active listening (i.e. paying close attention to the other side, respond to ensure you understand their viewpoint and reserve judgment until you get all the facts in).
Understand where the other person is coming from. Does their viewpoint make sense? Are their expectations reasonable?
If so, maybe you need to change your mind. If not, you can address the issue from their point of view and perhaps resolve the issue more effectively.
Make sure the other party understands that you understand – you “get” their point of view. You have not formed an opinion without considering their concerns.
When possible, try to compromise to ensure the person remains a loyal part of the team. If you can, protect their dignity and feelings.
Seek to bring them into the fold by making them a part of the process. Let them take the credit and earn the praise. President Harry Truman once said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Forgive and forget
Finally, ask them for forgiveness for any misunderstandings on your part (real or imagined). Try to identify any additional issues that you can address that might prevent a similar issue from arising in the future.
This will help heal any hurt feelings and ease concerns over future collaboration.
And, for your own sanity and well-being, make sure you don’t hold anything against the other party. Forgive them for their stance (and ill-advised things they may have said) and forget about it. Letting resentment into your life is a waste of energy and can only lead to negativity, distrust and inefficiencies.
XYZ resolved the conflict by understanding where the errant partner was coming from (essentially a position of misplaced priorities). They knew he would not respond to the ethical issue involved, but he did respond to the idea of avoiding potential legal issues and keeping the company in business. While the other two partners expressed their appreciation for his dedication to the enterprise, they successfully helped him understand that profits need to be attained legally and ethically.
Conflicts are going to happen. You can’t please everyone, but you can ensure that issues are resolved in a way that ensures the best possible result for everyone.