How to handle conflict like a pro

There are many reasons you might have conflict in your business & you need to understand them Click To Tweet

The former US president Ronal Reagan is quoted as saying, “peace is not the absence of conflict, and it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” This means that conflict is inevitable: we have it at home, at work, and in our social circles. The moment you have more than one person in a group, the likelihood of confrontation arises. Why? Because of differing views, because of differences in interests etc.

If you are wondering if the conflict at your office is normal, wonder not, it is. What is not normal is the degrees to which it can go to as well as the irreparable damage it can cause if it is not dealt with accordingly. If you are a business owner or even an employee, the following tips can help you handle conflict better and foster a positive environment.

1. Understand why you have conflict

There are many different reasons you might have conflict in your business. These range from personality clashes; communication gaps; disputes over approaches as well as competition for limited resources.

Understanding the triggers from your environment is the most important thing you can do because only when you know what is causing something are you in a position to ‘fix it’.

2. Manage expectations

Do you over promise and under deliver? Managing expectations internally is important because people know what they can expect from you and the work environment. Often times in trying to get the ‘best’ talent through the door, business owners make promises that they cannot meet by the time they say they will.

This leads to resentment, which manifests in various problems that affect the business owner, colleagues and even customers, rather under promise and over deliver.

3. Draw up a conflict resolution guide

In the same way that you would have a code of conduct that you get every employee to sign when they come on board, so too should you have a conflict resolution guide.

The contents (and comprehensiveness) are dictated entirely by the anticipation of conflict in your company as well as the gravity of those conflicts. Start simple, put together questions that first and foremost facilitate a reflective purpose.

Drawing up a conflict resolution guide could help handle conflicts in the workplace effectively Click To Tweet

4. Set rules!

Over and above the standard policies and codes of conduct, have rules of engagement that you compile with your team. When they have had a say on for example how they will relate to each other in the office, they are more likely to keep their end compared to when it is a rule from the boss.

You can even take it a step further and develop shared values. Make sure you include how ‘we promise to deal with conflict in the office’.

5. Never take sides

Yes she may have started with you when you were still a struggling business owner, and she understands the company, but just like everyone else you’ve brought on board, she has a role to play.

Everyone who works with you makes a contribution and they all need to be treated fairly and with respect. That includes not being side-lined over another employee. Treat everyone the same.

6. Listen more and talk less

As the visionary and not executor, yours is to spend more time listening than talking. Listen to what is not said especially because it is herein that the truth is often times revealed. Listen not to answer but to understand.

When your approach is this, people will feel comfortable coming to you, be it for good or bad. And as a permanent effective strategy to conflict management, this accessibility is what you must aim towards.

When you take even one of these tips and put it into action, you will be amazed at how much more manageable conflict in your workplace becomes. Remember that peace is not the absence of conflict; it is rather the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. Sometimes all it takes is being proactive and putting systems in place that support dealing with conflict when it arises.


Is there a correct way of handling conflict in start-ups?

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To answer the question, no. There isn’t a right way to handle conflict.  Processes in start-ups are never linear, especially in the beginning stages. So when a disagreement arises between members of the start-up, there’s almost always a third party involved to resolve the issue.

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People are different, and can also react to situations very differently. Processes and policies put in place in big corporates solve this issue. But when issues arise in start-ups, processes and policies are thought of.

What can start-ups do in the early stages to handle conflict?

Acknowledge that conflict will occur

Having to acknowledge that it will happen might seem cynical. But because people are different, the acknowledgement helps the start-up be realistic. Getting recognition in the beginning stages of a start-up is usually key. The beginning stages also include getting your product and service out to your target audience.

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At this stage, handling conflict by creating processes would be the least of your worries. Or so you may think. Being in an organisation that was being run like a start-up before —I’ve seen that if there is no process behind handling conflict, operations may come to a halt, especially if you’re working in a small team.

Handle conflict according to its levels

To fast track my advice on how to handle disagreements between people, it’s important to first rate the level of conflict. The different levels could be a low, medium or high. It may also be hard to rate the different levels. How would a start-up actually measure which conflict is more important than the other? This, I believe, is at the discretion of the organization.

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Identify each level and put processes in place to handle each level. Handle low or medium level disagreements internally within a few days or even hours. But a high level conflict means that a third party can be brought into resolve it and only the people involved should be addressed so that operations continue.

Culture fit

With any organisation, a culture fit between team members is important. People have different personalities, attitudes and different ways of reacting to situations. However, it is still very important to bring people into your start-up that know and understand the value of what the start-up is trying to achieve.

Eliminate continuous conflict by involving people that believe in the values of the start-up. Align your goals and values with that of the start-ups to become the right person to work with. This way even if conflict does arise, as it always does in any organisation, people know what their purpose of being in the organisation is.

With knowing and understanding the value of being in the organisation, the resolution stage can be much easier situation to reach.