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How does a ‘nice’ business owner deal with conflict?

by Alison Bradford

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Back in my corporate days I’ve dealt with my fair share of conflict. Though it was never something I enjoyed, because it happened so regularly I became used to handling it. Whether it was office politics at a senior level, or conflict within a project team, it happened, I dealt with it, it drained my energy.

There is something about the word ‘nice’ that certain people can have a way of using negatively to describe you. This happens to me occasionally.

Believe me, I’ve done the ‘corporate bitch’ role, and did it quite well, but it’s not something I’m proud of, or that sits well with me.

I believe absolutely that you can be nice, and you can be tough at the same time. You can be nice, and still be intelligent. You can be nice, and still challenge people to stretch themselves.

Being nice most definitely does not equal weak or fluffy.

So, in this vein, I’ve recently found myself in a couple of situations that I’d define as ‘conflict’ – where somebody has tried (not necessarily deliberately or maliciously, often just clumsily) to put me down or take advantage of me in some way.

Dealing with this put me in an uncomfortable place as I realised how out of practice I am at dealing with conflict. I was feeling resentful at being put in this position and this was starting to eat away at my energy.

One of the reasons I left the corporate world behind was that I found the office politics tiresome and draining – I just wanted to get on and do my job, and do it well.

The fact that I now rarely deal with these situations reminds me how much I enjoy being my own boss and, actually, if I don’t want to work with someone I have the choice not to. I find this very liberating.

However, it doesn’t mean I can avoid conflict completely, and there are rare occasions (like now) that it needs dealing with.

How about you? Do you ever have a client who tries to take advantage in some way? Maybe an assistant who keeps missing deadlines or delivering below par work? Or a business associate who’s been saying inappropriate things about you?

Do you feel frustrated (like me) that you’ve been put in a position to deal with something that is not necessarily of your own doing?

So, as a reminder to me, and to you if you don’t enjoy dealing with conflict, here are 6 ways to approach it:

1. Step back

Don’t get caught up in the emotion, instead take a step back from the situation and get clear on the issue. What has the other person done and what has been the impact of this?

2. Face up to it

Ask to have some time with the person involved to discuss it. This should be done privately, and preferably in a neutral place.

3. Avoid gossiping about it

Tempting as this (I know!) avoid talking to lots of other people about it. It’s fine to get a second opinion if you think you may be over reacting, but don’t get tempted to bring it up with anyone and everyone.

4. Have the conversation

Keep it factual and to the point. Prepare what you want to say but don’t make it a speech. Focus on the behaviour and the impact rather than the person.

5. Watch out for defences

Be prepared to fully listen to the other person’s viewpoint without being defensive. They may have a very different viewpoint on the situation that sheds a new light on it. As Stephen Covey said ‘seek first to understand, then be understood’.

6. Know when to walk away

Be prepared for an outcome where you can’t resolve the conflict and need to walk away. This may mean ending a client relationship, finding a new assistant, or cutting ties with a business associate.

What tips do you have for dealing with conflict? Is it something that comes naturally to you or do you try and avoid it? Leave me a comment to let me know your thoughts.

Alison ‘nice AND tough’ Bradford 😉

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Alison Bradford

Alison Bradford is a business coach who works with smart, ambitious business owners to get clarity about how they can grow their business and increase profit. Sign up here to learn 6 easy ways you can boost profit in your business today.

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