I always look forward to the beginning of baseball season. It was my favorite sport to play growing up, and it’s still my favorite sport to watch live.
One aspect of baseball that makes it both fun and unique is watching the managers argue with the umpires. There's no other sport that stops the game for a heated debate. The coach or manager usually comes on the field and engages in a heated argument. More surprising is that umpire tolerates this behavior. Although he can dismiss the manager from the game, this is rare. These arguments typically end with the manager walking back to the dugout shaking his head, and the umpire going back to work.
The fans love when this happens. If it’s the home team manager, there are roars of approval as he walks onto the field to begin the confrontation. If it’s the visiting team’s manager, boos rain down. It’s no surprise this level of conflict serves to energize a baseball team and spark fan rivalry.
While conflict may be helpful in baseball, it rarely works in business. Conflict in business only serves one purpose; to squander money. Quite often a lot of money.
Conflict in business has proven time after time to be a greater cost to a business than if it had never occurred. Most people don’t enjoy conflict. It causes them to shut down, disengage, and develop a negative attitude. People tend to lose interest in the task at hand and the desire to focus on the work ahead. There's no surprise that conflict leads to a loss of productivity, greater inefficiencies, and higher costs.
I’ve heard the myth that conflict in business is healthy and leads to constructive improvements. This can be true if the conflict is managed in a productive manner with controlled emotions. But accomplishing this task is difficult, requiring seasoned managers who have the experience and ability to understand and control the situation. Most conflict in business can be a learning experience, but only after dealing with the negative and costly impacts.
Conflict is unavoidable, especially in business. The goal of any manager or business owner should be twofold. To reduce the potential for conflict. Then, when conflict occurs, to minimize its impact on the business. Here are three suggestions for achieving these goals.
Prepare to avoid conflict
The first and best method for dealing with conflict in business is to avoid it altogether. Entering an agreement with a commitment to avoid conflict has shown to result in greater success. This commitment can be a structured conflict avoidance agreement or a more informal method. Both have proven effective in reducing conflict. Create a structured plan to address any issues before they cause damage to the relationship and the businesses involved.
Be wary of people with a history of conflict
There are some people who regularly engage in conflict. They enjoy the process of engaging others through intimidation or hostility. Their belief is that working this way provides greater power or an edge in negotiations. My advice is to avoid working with these people. They are the business version of the schoolyard bully. When all is said and done, they will cost you time and money.
Resolve conflict quickly
When conflict does occur, it is best to resolve issues as quickly as possible. The goal is to address the conflict and return to the important business at hand. The longer a conflict exists, the more damage it brings to the business and the parties involved. It's important to remove emotions if possible and treat the situation objectively. If emotions are too great, attempt to understand the other side’s emotional drivers to develop solutions to resolve the conflict. Also, consider bringing in an objective third party to provide guidance or a resolution.
Conflict in business is not the same as conflict in baseball. Conflict in business does not energize a team or bring praise and applause from customers. Conflict in business results in a loss of productivity, greater inefficiencies and a loss of money. The best approach for dealing with conflict is to develop a formal process to avoid conflict from occurring. The next approach is to avoid dealing with individuals who have a history of business conflict. Should a conflict occur, address it immediately and work to resolve it as quickly as possible.
Business is about results and focusing on the jobs that need to be done. Conflict takes us away from that purpose. Unless it can be managed constructively, the damage from conflict will be greater than any benefit to the business or its goals.
Brian T. King is the founder and owner of multiple firms encompassing design, construction, real estate, and manufacturing, and currently president of the integrated Design-Build firm A M King. Brian shares his passion for mentoring young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs at speaking engagements around the country, on podcasts and via his blog.