As leaders, our livelihood and the health of our business depend on how well we communicate, especially when it comes to conflict and crisis resolution. Strong leaders humanize and personalize every interaction.

Engaging in conflict or crisis resolution isn’t about about being right, it’s about mediating a successful outcome. If you’re intimidated or fearful about facing people in conflict, remember that it’s just a conversation, and fear is a feeling, not a fact. In most business circumstances, the sooner an issue is resolved, the better, because it can turn personal very quickly if left to fester.

Part of grounding yourself as a leader is to develop the right mindset, and that doesn’t magically appear on the day of a crisis; it’s a work in progress.  Establish and stick to a positive morning routine including elements of visualization, meditation and affirming so you can start every day in control of your thoughts and attitude. Having the right mindset is four times more important than your actions and can significantly impact every day and circumstance, not only those involving conflict resolution.

When a conflict or crisis arises that requires your attention, one minute of preparation can save a hundred minutes of struggle. First, take 120 seconds to visualize a successful outcome. Then do your homework on the issue, but even more important, do you your homework on the people involved.  At EXIT Realty for example, all our Regional Owners and Broker/Owners complete a DISC personality profile assessment and I receive a copy.  Many times, having advanced knowledge of whether someone has a predominantly dominant, inspiring, supportive or cautious personality type has helped me to understand how they handle conflict and I can take care to speak their “language” to engage with them in relatable way.

Normally in a crisis there’s a fight or flight window of approximately six hours when people tend to catastrophize. As early as possible, set a time the next day for everyone to talk and ask them to come to the table with solutions and an open mind.  Set the ground rules, and using words that work (concern, collaboration, brainstorm), explain that together you’re going to find a solution. You’re on a mission to accomplish X and they are an integral part of it. I find that with this direction, often the parties resolve the issue before we meet. Doing so empowers them to rise to the next level on their own, and when they run into a problem again, I can remind them of how well they did.

If the issue isn’t resolved, consider how you’re going to meet. Technology should be part of your team, but it is never a replacement for the human being. Whenever possible, meeting in person is preferable, but if not, use technology like Zoom or FaceTime.  Make sure you can see people’s faces if you can’t physically be in the same room. So often in trying to resolve an issue, points of view can be misinterpreted and misunderstood and being able to see someone’s facial expression can alert you when you might need to dig deeper to really understand.

Everyone wants to be heard. Listening intently while you keep them talking makes a huge difference.  Phrases to help draw them out include,

  • Help me understand,
  • Paint the picture for me,
  • Tell me more,
  • I care about you enough to have this conversation.

Keep your tone conversational and don’t get emotional. Actively listen – no multitasking – be present. Work hard to understand where they’re coming from regardless of the issue, their point of view or how much you might disagree. Other factors bubbling under the surface could be in play that aren’t readily apparent, such as worries about the pandemic, struggles in their personal life, family or finances.

The ideal plan isn’t to “crush” one side or the other, rather that everyone comes away a winner. Even if the conflict or crisis was successfully resolved, follow up with all parties, because if someone was left feeling uneasy, you’ll want to do damage control.  At the very least, strive for a growth opportunity all around.

Immediately after the meeting ask yourself what worked and what you could have done differently. Consider what can be done to prevent the issue from arising again. What did everyone learn?  

I strongly believe that tough conversations build better leaders and strengthen relationships, but only when they’re done right.