When my career began, the business world operated with a resolute objectiveness, focused on revenue growth, earnings growth, innovation and customer satisfaction. The political sphere had ups and downs, but the general tenor of politics didn’t bleed into the office. How things have changed.
The political sphere’s divisiveness and discord has, increasingly, found its way into business conflicts. Heightened tensions and strong emotions escalate problems to crisis points demanding high-intensity engagement.
Not only are tempers running hotter, but the demand for immediate solutions often leads to knee-jerk reactions that, over time, can actually make the problems worse by not addressing underlying causes.
What’s a manager to do? Here’s some practical steps for finding lasting resolutions to conflicts in a time of disharmony.
Focus on the facts
All too often, the high intensity of the perceived business conflict is fueled by emotional attachment to a specific outcome or the source of the problem. This can be exacerbated when leaders propose short-term solutions before a dispassionate, careful analysis of all the facts allows a reasoned examination of the situation.
Thoughtful managers sift through angry commentary in search of nuggets of solid truth upon which the foundation of a solution can be built.
Defuse the anger
When you hear of a difficult situation, you may want to charge ahead to find someone to hold accountable or take the blame. It can be difficult to dispassionately fact-find if you allow your emotional intensity to rise.
A good technique for dissipating frustration is to talk through the issues, giving empathy to the parties involved, without necessarily being sympathetic to their point of view. Understand why they’re upset and what frustrations they face, but don’t allow leading questions to generate a feeling of being injured or backed into a corner.
I like to ask people about other situations similar to the immediate problem, so they can start to think about process and method and not just the personalities involved at the crisis point.
Alternatives and trade-offs
The worst possible way to present the solution to a difficult decision is to boil it down to a “take it or leave it” point, which inevitably leaves the parties dissatisfied.
It’s better to offer three or four alternatives, some of which may be unfavorable or have specific aspects the parties would object to. Being allowed to choose between alternatives, even if the alternatives themselves aren’t favorable, gives the parties in dispute a sense of control of their environment and management of the solution rather than feeling forced and compelled.
Conflicts in the workplace and disputes with customers, suppliers and employees have been common since the first business enterprise was hatched. But the overheated and inflamed environment of social and political life are impinging on the once orderly business world.
Successful resolution of these intense conflicts requires new techniques, new tactics and, above all, a thoughtful and calm adherence to processes that seek the best resolution for all parties, rather than contributing more wood to the fire.
David Iwinski Jr. is the managing director of Blue Water Growth. A global business consulting firm with extensive experience and expertise in Asia, Blue Water Growth services include merger and acquisition guidance, private capital solutions, product distribution, production outsourcing and a wide variety of business advisory services for its Western and Asian clients.