4 Mediation Strategies to Tackle Conflict in Your Business For the vast majority of businesses, litigation is bad for the bottom line. Most businesses seek to avoid litigation, manage risk and mitigate financial loss. Unfortunately, conflict often seems pervasive and unavoidable. Disputes can arise in virtually any interaction, from negotiating commercial leases or vendor contracts to fielding complaints from unhappy customers, to dealing with creditors and navigating situations with departing employees who have a non-compete agreement. In any situation involving conflict, no matter how small it may seem at first, there are several negotiation techniques that business professionals can use to facilitate resolution, get back to the business at hand and, by doing so, protect the bottom line. Negotiation is at the heart of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), an alternative to litigation that can help individuals and businesses find the best possible outcome while saving time, money and stress, which parties face in traditional litigation. #1 Hone In On What Matters the Most In today’s fast-paced culture, it is easy to race through life, checking off tasks that need to be completed. However, when it comes to tough conversations, consider slowing down, taking a few deep breaths and collecting your thoughts. Prior to engaging in, reacting to, or escalating any disagreement, take a moment to think about what you are actually most interested in accomplishing. Consider spending some time writing down your company’s priorities at that particular juncture. Doing this stokes the fires for creative problem solving, which can otherwise be smothered. Honing in on what matters the most also allows you to see what is not on the list of priorities, which is where you can afford to be flexible and make compromises as you work toward resolving the dispute. #2 Listen more; Talk less Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone seems to be talking over each other and constantly interrupting one another? Recall how that made you feel. Maybe disrespected, not heard, not valued, unappreciated? Although most people do not intend to be malicious when they interrupt, consider that interrupting is actually a form of stealing from the person speaking. Interrupting is taking an opportunity away from another. It sends a message, often unconsciously, to the other person that what they have to say is not worthy of being heard. It leaves the other person feeling small, disrespected and disempowered, none of which are conducive for conflict resolution. Instead, give the person with whom you disagree a chance to share their perspective and experience with you. You might learn something new and it could help you resolve the conflict. Moreover, if you take it one step further and not only listen but also acknowledge what they are saying, that may be enough to completely diffuse a tense situation. It is remarkable how often anger and frustration dissipate once a person has had an opportunity to air their grievances. #3 Focus on “The Why” It is often said that the single, most important question anyone can ask is, “Why?” Take a cue from a young child who asks “why?” an average of 2,978 times a day as she tries to assimilate new information and understand the people she interacts with and the world around her. The next time you find yourself interacting with someone who is entrenched in their position, try asking, “Why is that important to you?” “What does having that mean to you?” Like a young child, be curious about the needs and interests hidden beneath the other side’s posturing, positions and demands. Once you uncover them, you will have a better understanding of what’s most important to the other side, which will give you an opportunity to explore alternative ways to address their needs and concerns that are not incongruous with your own. The flip side of this coin is to be sure to get clear about and express your own “why.” Explaining your needs and interests, which form the basis of your position, makes it easier for the other side to understand why something is important to you and be more willing to work together. #4 Assume the best of others How often do we misconstrue written or spoken words, get affronted, react harshly, and lobby an attack back across the net toward our opponent only to later realize that they meant something entirely different than what we interpreted? That type of overreaction is usually based in fear and distrust. On the other hand, when we assume positive intent, we are primed to find areas of common ground upon which to build a solution that works for all parties involved. A neutral, third-party can be helpful in resolving disputes because he/she can foster a sense of trust, which is fundamental to any resolution of conflict. Just as a sailor rushes to weld even the slightest leak in the hull of a ship, so too does it pay to deal with business conflicts as soon as they arise. The longer the dispute lingers, the more difficult it can be to resolve. The longer a dispute lasts, the more entrenched individuals tend to get in their positions, the more time for hurt feelings to fester, and the more difficult it is to focus on what matters the most. Ongoing disputes tend to take on a life of their own — sapping time, energy, talent and resources away from the goods or services that a company provides. Consider involving a neutral facilitator early in the process. Companies do not have to, nor should they, wait until a lawsuit has been filed and a case has been ordered to mediation by the Court. About the Author: Colleen Byers Colleen L. Byers is a lawyer and certified mediator at Bell, Davis & Pitt. Her legal practice includes business and commercial litigation, professional liability matters, estate lawsuits, will caveats, trust disputes, guardianship proceedings, power of attorney abuse matters, and fiduciary litigation. Colleen is trained in the Civil Collaborative Law process and is certified by the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission to mediate Superior Court cases. She is privileged to counsel and guide parties through conflict resolution in a way that leaves them feeling empowered and transformed.