How to manage conflict

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How to manage conflict

Could you be more like the United Nations in your business?

Conflict resolution is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Just this morning I was reminded just how difficult it can be to negotiate with my children let alone an employee or co-worker!

As I walked around the supermarket, six-year-old in tow, I hear “Daddy can I have this?”. I turn around to see my daughter holding sweets. It would have been easy for me to snap at her to put the sweets back and come with me. I was tired, distracted and wanted to go home, but that would only have resulted in an irate child and consequently a rise in my temper. This is not a win for anybody.

Instead I asked her why she wanted the sweets and her reply was “I’m hungry!”. So, I suggested getting another snack (it was an apple) that she could eat right now as the sweets weren’t good for her and she couldn’t eat them until she left the shop. Luckily for me my daughter happens to love apples and the negotiation went down well. She was happy because she got her snack and I felt good because she didn’t eat any sweets.

This situation could easily have gone another way – young children can be unpredictable - but by taking the time to consider my response the situation went much better than it could have done.


Conflict in business

In business, we’re usually not trying to negotiate with our employees to put back a packet of sweets. The problems we face are much more complex, time consuming and nuanced - the stakes are much higher.

In these sorts of conflicts, you must remain professional, respectful and understanding. But that’s easier said than done. It’s very easy for conflicts to spiral and evolve to a point where we’re no more than petulant children screaming, shouting and losing our temper.

Negotiation is often thought of in terms of beating the opposition and “winning”. Whilst in the short term this type of negotiation may be effective, it’s what’s called a win-lose approach and is very one-sided.

In the long-term win-lose negotiation can destroy trust, break down relationships and result in bitter resentment as a result of one side feeling devalued and the other feeling superior. This is not something you want brewing in your business.


We could all take a leaf out of the UN’s book

The United Nations work day in day out to maintain, garner and secure international peace, security and cooperation. They don’t do this by breaking down and screaming like children every time a disagreement arises – they certainly don’t use win-lose negotiation.

They manage to maintain this incredible feat, despite everything that’s going on in the world around them with carefully managed non-violent communication in the form of win-win negotiation. So how can you employ win-win negotiation when conflict arises in your workplace and make sure you end up with happy parties all round?


Ask yourself these questions, when conflict arises:


  1. Has there been a focus on maintaining relationships despite the disagreement?
    • Proceedings should be respectful, non-personal and supportive. You’re tackling a problem, not people. You can disagree with someone’s ideas but still like the person themselves. Don’t make it personal.
  2. Is there a focus on interests and not positions?
    1. It’s very easy to adopt a position and militantly stand by it. But by looking at the underlying values that have created that position you may be able to find an alternative solution both parties are happy with.
  3. Is everyone being heard?
    1. It’s easy for one voice to dominate a conversation and dismiss all other ideas. Ensure everyone gets a chance to be heard and that all ideas are taken seriously.
  4. Is the result fair?
    1. It’s inevitable that despite working towards a win-win scenario, differences will remain. To ensure there is no lasting resentment make sure you examine the solution to confirm it is fair and represents everyone in the room. If possible, get an objective third-party involved to offer a fresh perspective and unbiased opinion.


Conflict resolution is challenging. For many business owners, it’s one task they wish they could avoid altogether but it’s inevitable and even vital to the continued creative development and success of your business. If you throw all your best and brightest minds in a room together, they are at times going to get at each others throats, but when handled correctly, they can produce spectacular things.

Try to be a less win-lose and a more win-win in your negotiations this week. Be more like the United Nations.

If you need help, guidance or support resolving a specific team conflict Zentano can offer a fresh perspective as well as the expertise and skills necessary to educate you and your team on diffusing future situations. Please follow this link to find out how we can help your business using our expertise in facilitation.