I don’t know if you've heard about the village that was connected to the rest of the town by a very long and narrow bridge. The bridge must have been built during the carriage era because it could accommodate only one car at a time. It is therefore customary to find cars on one end of the bridge patiently waiting for traffic from the other end to cross, before embarking on it. But on this day, two impatient motorists were approaching the bridge from the two ends. Although, it was quite easy to see vehicles from opposite ends, neither driver applied the brakes. Instead they picked up the speed, that the dust they kicked up on the dirt track before the bridge was as thick as an atomic cloud. By the time they stepped on the brakes, both cars were facing each other in the middle of the bridge.
After an eternity of staring down each other, they killed their engines. The younger driver then decided to really infuriate the other so that he will be forced to back up the car and make room for him. He picked the newspaper he had just bought, stepped out of his car and sat on the bonnet to peruse the contents. When he heard the sound of the other car door opening, he stole a glance and saw the driver coming out. He had braced himself for all manner of invective when the older man cleared his throat and respectfully said, “I see that is today’s paper, could you kindly pass it when you are through?” I can’t recall how the story ended, but there is another face off that ended funnily.
This man and his wife were in a heated argument. From experience, most men know that they cannot match their wives in the verbal-war department. So the moment the man felt he was losing the argument, he left the issue at hand and turned to below-the-belt tactics. He looked at her and called her a slut. He was expecting her to break down and end the argument. Instead, without stopping to think the woman responded, “Yes, I know. And the only client I have is your ‘sorry-broke-self’. And you don’t even pay for the services!” The man who wasn't expecting such jaw-dropping reaction suddenly burst into laughter and his wife followed suit. Needless to say, they resolved their disagreement.
Everywhere there is more than one person; there will be more than one agenda. And everywhere there is more than one agenda; the likelihood of clashes is high. But, as an entrepreneur, how should you handle them when they occur? It could be between two employees, groups of employees or even you and your employees. First, we need to understand that conflict is not necessarily bad. It is often the fallout of misdirected or misguided passion. Ask any manager and they will tell you they will rather have differences in their team than indifference; this is because anger is often a symptom that you care. Workers who don’t care will readily pack their boxes and go home, leaving your business to go up in flames. But, workers who care will sacrifice to put out the fire because they have something to prove and need the business to still be up and running if they are to be able to prove it. Secondly, conflicts reveal areas of our business that require improvements and so we should all embrace the opportunities they provide for us to learn. It is when the needed improvements are not provided that we invite those involved to personalize the issues.
According to the Project Management Professional, the five main conflict resolution techniques include:
- Confronting the problem: This technique requires that you solve the problem so that it goes away. It leads to a win-win situation.
- Compromising: This technique provides some degree of satisfaction to both parties. It is not the best solution because it is a lose-lose situation that doesn't give either party everything they want.
- Avoidance: Sometimes we are required to retreat or postpone making a decision on the matter. This should be as temporary a measure as possible, and the entrepreneur might employ it while trying to gain more information/perspective. If he doesn’t resort to the other techniques to solve the matter, the smoke he ignores today might become a conflagration in future.
- Smoothing: This looks more diplomatic than practical for most people, but it requires that we emphasize agreement rather than differences of opinion. A negotiator who attempts to paint the Big Picture to make opponents realize what really matters is smoothing the conflict.
- Forcing: Here, the entrepreneur pushes one viewpoint at the expense of another.
How do you think the two impatient drivers on the bridge should resolve their face-off?