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Donna DeCarolis

Founding Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship of Drexel University

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Managing Conflict in Your Business

June 07, 2016

Evading controversy may lead to poor outcomes.

Candor, Conflict and Teams

Teams play a critical role in most companies. We have all had the experience of being involved in a team project and trying to avoid conflict. In an effort to be polite or to move things along, constructive criticism and honesty are swept under the table.

It turns out that evading controversy may lead to poor outcomes. Decisions are made based on invalid assumptions or faulty projections that weren’t completely vetted.

But there are some things you can do to encourage candid feedback. In larger team meetings, break teams into smaller groups, perhaps of two or three. The reduced size makes it more likely that people will be with each other and take more risks in their thought processes.

Either engage a facilitator or try yourself to teach teams about “caring criticism.” Encourage the use of words like “I might suggest” or “Think about this” when offering a critique. On the other side, coach employees on how to receive criticism, accepting it as generous feedback, thanking the person for offering it, and clarifying points.

Remember, true collaboration occurs best in an atmosphere of honesty and trust.

Always Saying No?

Saying “no” to your employees when they approach you with new initiatives or products is easy to do. As a leader or founder, you feel you have the skills, background and vision to make snap judgments about potential ideas. Yet, an automatic “no” falling from your lips can have unfortunate consequences.

The word “no” shuts down any further conversation. It causes others to become defensive. An automatic “no” sends a signal that innovation is not valued and prevents future efforts by employees to improve your business. A better approach is to genuinely explore the ideas, asking about details, how it fits into the company’s strategy, how will it be funded, etc. This approach exposes both the positives and negatives of a new idea.

Second, if you frequently say “no,” take a look at your leadership skills. If you think you have all the answers, this is a telltale sign that your leadership style is flawed. You might be relying solely on your past experiences and ignoring valuable insights.

So, before saying no, think about the ramifications to your company and to your skills as a leader.

Managing Employees’ Emotions

Although we like to think that our companies operate rationally and objectively, this is not reality. Emotions play a role in everything that we do; they are a part of being human and an integral part of how we work.

This is especially true in a small business where roles blur, expectations are high, and resources are scarce. Emotional outbursts are more the norm than the exception.

As the owner or manager, you are probably tempted to set a tone of “being in control” and managing free of emotion. This might not be the healthiest response. Consider acknowledging emotions in an appropriate manner as opposed to banishing them altogether.

When employees start to get emotional, recognize the situation, suggest they take a break, and distance themselves. Discuss the situation when they return. Don’t bury it. Deal with the emotion without making the other person feel threatened.

Investigate what is causing an employee’s emotional behavior in the first place. You will gain insights into their perceptions and trigger points and this assists in dealing with issues at their origin. Understanding what is causing employees to react so emotionally puts you in a better position to prevent an outburst.

Hearing Both Sides

Conflict in organizations is inevitable. As a manager or founder of your company, your employees, partners or team members will approach you at some point, and vent about someone else. The topic could range from personality conflicts to a lack of performance to something unethical.

No matter what the issue is, or how much you may trust the person who first approaches you, it is best to seek the viewpoint of the other side, provided there are no confidentiality breaches. Jumping to a conclusion based on one person’s point of view could lead to a poor decision on your part, because you don’t have all the facts, or at least all the perceptions of what is happening.

Taking action on one person’s point of view, particularly in a divisive matter, can lead to a toxic culture. By not seeking out and listening to all sides, you demoralize the other person or persons involved. While you want to find out and address whatever problem surfaces, you also want to give everyone a fair chance to present their view.

Listen to all sides – it is best for decision making and morale.

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