How to resolve conflicts with your business partners by developing win-win agreements

All organizations have conflicts – both within themselves and with other companies – and these conflicts have different causes: different values ​​and beliefs, emotional turmoil, perceptions of limited resources and different goals, among other things.

Internal conflicts affect areas within the same company (e.g. between marketing and finance), while external conflicts arise between an organization and its external stakeholders (suppliers, intermediaries, etc.). Some conflicts escalate because of a participant’s personal characteristics (e.g. personality) and others because of significant differences (e.g. quality, price).

Many techniques (negotiation, litigation, mediation, etc.) have been developed to resolve such conflicts.

Business conflicts damage relationships, which are the most important assets of an organization. From a traditional point of view, disagreements are perceived as a firm cake: one participant can only get a larger slice if it comes at the expense of the other’s slice. This fear-based scarcity mentality comes in several forms, such as: B. Fear of loss of resources, fear of injustice and fear of control.

The presence of conflict implies the perception of the separation of each participant from the other. Both parties often prefer the “right to be right” over their duty to care for others. Most conflicts, however, can be amicably resolved or even avoided entirely with appropriate communication and openness.

Corporations that successfully resolve conflict act on noble principles (e.g., compassion, caring, forgiveness, gratitude, etc.) and prioritize the human aspects of each participant during the negotiation process, thereby maintaining and strengthening their business relationships.

Businesses should use the following communication techniques to avoid disagreements.

  • Express your needs in clear and simple language. Whenever possible, use positive vocabulary and focus on what you want: avoid discussing what is not wanted.
  • Ask others to be open about their needs. Approve other people’s opinions (“I appreciate your comments; thank you for letting me know.”).
  • Avoid reading minds or guessing each other’s opinions and preferences. Use open-ended questions, paraphrases, explanations, and retrospectives to clearly understand other people’s comments.
  • Encourage your partner to explain their ideas using phrases like “Tell me more about …”. Actively listen – focus on their comments and don’t interrupt them. Maintain a curious attitude, even in difficult times.
  • Look for similarities between the participants. Those who mention their similarities naturally tend to be considerate of others.
  • Do not ignore conflicts or hope that over time they will resolve themselves. Seeing conflicts as an opportunity to learn from one another.
  • Try to interpret comments from others from a positive perspective. If a person makes a harmful comment, rewrite it from a positive point of view. Suppose others have the best of intentions and want to reach an agreement.
  • Use words that imply a connection between participants, e.g. B. “Let’s”, “Us”, “We” and “Our”. If possible, remove words like “I”, “My”, or “My”.
  • Avoid manipulative strategies like ultimatums and false deadlines – tricks that prevent participants from reaching a mutually profitable agreement.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of others; let them express it openly. Be sensitive to the emotional states of others and use phrases like “It looks like you are feeling …”. To avoid a potentially destructive escalation, suggest taking a break when emotions build up.
  • Avoid a defensive stance. Don’t react to one another’s aggressive comments. Regularly identify and calmly express your feelings using phrases like “I feel …” without blaming others.
  • Avoid personalizing the conflict (e.g. discussing personal characteristics). Personal conflicts tend to escalate.
  • Whenever possible, approach the conflict in a good mood. When participants experience positive emotions, they develop more creative solutions.

Note: This article is based on an excerpt from the book The Art of Merciful Business: Key Principles for a Humane Business (2019, Routledge – Productivity Press).

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