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Fight Right

Expert tips on how to resolve messy situations like a pro

by Michele Sponagle

Though you endeavour to avoid clashes with people you do business with, chances are you’ll find yourself at odds with clients, co-workers, meeting attendees, venues or suppliers more than once over your career.

“Don’t panic,” says Winston Blake, a Saskatoon-based conflict resolution practitioner in private practice and an instructor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University. “Conflict will happen. It’s a normal part of business.” So take a deep breath and keep these tips in mind.
 

Dial it Back

When clashes do occur, Blake advises resisting the urge to fire back in the heat of the moment. “There’s a difference between reacting and responding,” Blake notes. “Reactions are fuelled by emotion. Responses come as result of slowing down and analyzing a situation.”
 
Blake recommends stepping back before engaging in a difficult conversation, if you can: “Ask yourself: What do I need to understand? What does this person need? You’ll also want to separate the problem from the person. You have to look at being hard on the problem, but being soft on the individual. Part of that process is identifying the core issue.”
 
If you need to respond in the moment, acknowledge the other person’s reaction—even if it’s a simple, “I see that you’re frustrated, but I will work with you to resolve this.”
 

Keep Perspective
When in the midst of a conflict crisis, it can be difficult to be objective. That’s why Blake recommends putting all the details on paper. Stick to the facts. This helps to detach yourself so you can see the core issue more clearly.


It’s easy to fire off a flurry of emails to explain and to defend how things unfolded. Blake encourages clients to use email to convey information, facts and contracts. Having all the details in writing will be useful if there is a misunderstanding or discrepancy over what was expected, and also protects you legally by having everything documented. However, when trying to resolve a problem, it’s better to pick up the phone or meet face-to-face, if possible, to have a productive discussion.

 
Plan to Disagree

When you are drawing up a contract, consider including a stipulation for conflict resolution, which will outline what will happen if there is a disagreement. That might include using a mediator to help you and the other party get on the same page and get back to business again.

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