Conflict Management: How to Avoid Conflicts Through Proper Feedback

Jürgen Renz Last updated 08.07.2021
8 Min.
Conflict management: How to avoid conflicts through proper feedback
Last updated 08.07.2021

Conflict management and feedback can help you avoid conflicts in your professional life. If you make your point clearly, there's no room for false expectations. Rather the opposite is true – your business partners, customers and suppliers know they can rely on you. If conflicts do arise, however, it's important to resolve them as quickly as possible and that's where mediation can help.

Conflict prevention through feedback: How to recognize and steer clear of conflict

Feedback is an important starting point for conflict prevention. In order to avoid conflict, you first need to know if something is wrong. Feed is an essential ingredient that will benefit you throughout your professional life.

Feedback isn't only about your needs, but also those of your business partners, customers and suppliers. It's important to avoid conflicts and, if necessary, to question your own work processes.

But what makes feedback so valuable? Basically, the most effective way to avoid conflict is prevention. For you, this means mastering the situation before it escalates. And that's exactly what feedback helps you do. Without it, you can't pick up on grievances at an early stage. Hardly anyone notices conflicts if you defuse them in time. By doing you, you also contribute to a relaxed atmosphere. For this reason alone, it's worthwhile to take feedback from business partners, customers and suppliers to heart and actively seek it out. Do you want to achieve results quickly? Then this is the right way to go.

Need for harmony and lack of courage

People who place great value on harmony find it difficult to formulate clear feedback. They don't want to cause offense with their expectations and shy away from conflicts. But it doesn't mean these business partners, customers or suppliers don't have any expectations. They just try to not show them openly. Always trying to please everyone, being nice and smiling all the time is very exhausting in the long run. Moreover, such people tend to agree to solutions too quickly, even if they're not convinced by them.

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Recognizing expectations and disappointments

The root of most conflicts lies in unfulfilled expectations. That's why efficient expectation management is at the core of conflict prevention. Regular feedback helps you to perceive what other people expect and to compare it with the current situation. It's important for you and your company to understand that it's not all about fulfilling people's expectations of you.

Intercepting unspoken expectations has nothing to do with a hypersensitive management style. Rather, the efficiency is what makes such an approach interesting. If you draw the right conclusions from proper feedback, you can catch potential conflicts quickly and effortlessly. If you try to do it retrospectively, it will cost you a lot of time and effort. When you clearly express what you stand for and what expectations you will meet, it won't please everyone. Nevertheless, you prevent later conflicts and protect your company.

Taking a clear stand

Do you want to curb false expectations? Then it helps if you take a clear stand. Being clear and understandable about how you react to feedback from your business partners, customers or suppliers requires the courage to be clear. This is a quality that many people neglect in favor of diplomatic generalizations. If you avoid such conflicts, feedback may also be glossed over. After all, your counterparts don't want to disappoint you with their feedback any more than you want to disappoint them.

This diplomacy makes it difficult to express your true views and intentions. You can only initiate an alignment of expectations if both parties are open and honest about what they think. In this way, conflicts can be addressed directly instead of simmering under the surface. As psychology lecturer Karlheinz Wolfgang puts it, expectations are one-sided contracts. When you ask for feedback, you dissolve this one-sided contract and find out what's important to your business partners, customers or suppliers.

Problems with business partners

You and your co-founders have bonded over the great project of a joint company. But the day-to-day cooperation is very different from what you expected: you prioritize appointments and agreements differently. And they generally don't do their work as conscientiously, efficiently and reliably as you had imagined. Such problems and the resulting conflicts are very unpleasant, but they must be resolved. 

You have to discuss with your business partners how you define your cooperation and what problems exist. In the worst case, you may not be able to bring your ideas and expectations together. But this realization is itself very important: you then know where you stand and have it in your hands in time to change something or go separate ways.

Conflicts with clients

Instead of reacting to possible first impulses with arguing back, getting upset or closing yourself off, the first thing to do is to stay calm and pause for a moment. Don't get angry just because the customer is angry. After all, it's your business you're dealing with. Even if the customer isn't satisfied with the service, regardless of whether this is justified from your point of view or not, it helps to remain sovereign and objective. 

First of all, it's about the customers and what they have to say. Take them seriously and avoid justifications. This leads to a verbal exchange of blows and to where the real issue – the satisfaction of the customer and the reputation of your company – takes a back seat. Good client management also involves admitting mistakes. In some circumstances, an apology may be appropriate. Compensation can also reduce your customers' frustration.

Generally speaking, you should never take a complaint personally, even if it is about your own company. The focus is on your product or the service you offer, not on you as a person. 

Differences with suppliers

There may well be situations where you're unhappy with your suppliers or service providers. If you expected something different, you should sit down with them and discuss your ideas. 

This way you can build a reliable relationship together. This includes, for example, training the other person to let you know if deadlines can't be met. Or if deliveries are incomplete, defective or damaged. If you're interested in working with a supplier in the long term, you should organize this cooperation well for both parties from the beginning. 

An essential point can be the quality assurance agreement (QAA). This refers to a contractual agreement between the buyer and the supplier in which it is described in detail what the supplier must do to comply with quality assurance and which specifications they need to fulfill. The QAA has the task of optimizing the inter-company division of labor, making delivery processes simpler and faster and thus avoiding multiple quality inspections.

The most important basis for such clarifying conversations is preparation. You should be clear beforehand what's important to you and what your exact goal is. Distinguish between observation and evaluation so that you can distinguish between subjective feelings and facts. It helps to put yourself in the other person's position to be able to show understanding. Reproaches have no place in these conversations, both parties are striving for a common consensus.  

Conflict management: Strategies for dealing with conflict and solutions

Even in a business context, it's people that are working with each other. For that reason, conflicts with customers are normal – we're all human. No matter how hard you try, every now and then conflicts simply cannot be avoided. When they happen, solving existing problems quickly and efficiently can benefit everyone. Feedback and a cooperative team help to minimize the impact. The most important point is always to re-establish a functioning human relationship. On such a basis, most conflicts can be resolved quickly and efficiently.

Is there a conflict?

As soon as you recognize tensions in your interaction with a person, it is worthwhile investigating first whether it's a conflict or not. You can either start from the feedback or from yourself. Is the tension coming exclusively from you? If so, it is a problem that is best investigated by yourself. Otherwise, it's a question of finding out in which areas this conflict occurs. Such a conflict always emanates from several parties. In very few cases is the cause of the conflict rooted in the issue itself. If this were the case, a constructive discussion between the parties involved would help.

In such a situation, targeted conflict management will help you. This is based on Timothy Leary's human model, which was further developed by Robert Anton Wilson. The model states that people resort to certain behaviors in stressful or conflict situations. If you understand the system behind this model, you can react to triggers in a targeted way. 

Disputes often arise from habits we use to solve our conflicts. Basically, you can distinguish between four types:

  • People who keep their frustrations to themselves and give little or no feedback.
  • People who tend to vehemently defend their point of view, even loudly or aggressively if necessary.
  • People who are scientific and need tangible evidence – these people argue logically first and foremost.
  • People with high moral and ethical standards who want to convince themselves of the general value.

Agreement? Signal willingness to find a solution!

Regular communication with feedback helps you nip conflicts in the bud. Regardless of whether you're seeking such feedback or there's an acute problem, your willingness to find a solution is an important basis for resolving a disagreement. At the same time, it's essential that both parties show interest in a solution. But how can you go about it?

  1. Find out if there is a shared conflict situation. Are both parties aware of the conflict? Only if this is the case can you reach an agreement. If one side believes the relationship is harmonious, they might not see the point in working on a solution.
  2. Whether both parties would come to an agreement as soon as all demands or expectations are met is also crucial. Here it's important that you don't make a concrete offer. It's only a question of finding out whether your counterpart also wants an agreement.
  3. Then you can try to deal with the problem on a factual level. Ideally, you'll come to a joint solution. If this isn't possible – despite your best efforts – mediation can help in many cases.

Avoid misunderstandings through feedback

Regular feedback helps you manage conflict effectively. It helps you to find strategies to solve and manage conflicts. Some tensions are unavoidable, however. You can neither counteract them with concrete ideas for solutions nor with feedback.

Even with a strong need for harmony, you can't avoid the occasional argument. It's always better to deal with a conflict than to suppress it in the long term. This would lead to latent stress in dealing with business partners, suppliers or customers. At the same time, an unspoken conflict affects the interpersonal relationship. Conflict management is therefore not a final solution and doesn't completely avoid tensions. Rather, it helps you to deal skillfully with different opinions.

Mediation – the modern conflict moderation

Mediation is a way of resolving conflicts out of court. But it's not just suitable for disputes that would otherwise end up in court. You can use it specifically to resolve problems that the feedback points out to you. The aim of the method is for the persons concerned to find a subjectively balanced solution.

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Mediators form the basis of such a procedure. They're neutral and their work is confidential, which enables them to act as outsiders. That means mediators are standing on the outside and don't provide judgements. The fact they have no decision-making power enables the participants to speak openly with each other. For mediation to be successful, it's essential that both parties participate openly and voluntarily.

Before the mediation begins, you define the mandate together. This means that you agree on the goals of the discussion. How much time can you invest in the mediation? Do you want to actively participate in solving existing problems? In this context, you provide information about the feedback and analyze what will be included in the discussion.

Starting mediation

When you start mediation, it's important to first create a constructive atmosphere. The participants should get the opportunity to communicate in this protected setting. What outcome are they hoping for? What fears are they carrying around with them? You can achieve a balanced relationship by involving the participants equally.

Another important step at the beginning is to explain what the process will look like. This way, all participants know what to expect. This helps you avoid disappointment. It has to be clear to everyone that no one is judging them. This promotes active and intensive cooperation and increases willingness. Always focus on the goal and avoid time pressure. This way you can maintain a positive climate throughout the conversation.

In individual work, all participants collect their wishes. The feedback forms the basis for these wishes, if applicable. The facilitator then explains which concerns can be resolved through mediation. This raises the question, why can't all issues be resolved? The answer is simple: mediators do not have the authority to make decisions. This is the task of the manager. For issues that can be resolved, there are usually different approaches. In mediation, the people decide together which path they want to take and what feedback they want to give.

Clarification

You then enter the feedback from the first step into the communication square (Friedemann Schulz von Thun). Each person goes through the individual levels:

  • What do customers, business partners or suppliers feel when they think of the conflict?
  • Which factual issues are particularly important?
  • How is the relationship with the counterpart perceived?
  • What does the person want from the others?

Active listening, visualizing content and maintaining the flow are among the main tasks of this facilitation step. Disparaging remarks and personal attacks don't belong here. These must be translated into acceptable language. After the contentious points have been worked out, only the core points of the conflict will remain.

Your questions about conflict management

What questions do you have for Jürgen about conflict management? We look forward to your comment. Are you interested in WordPress, online marketing and more? Follow RAIDBOXES on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or sign up to our newsletter.

Jürgen Renz and his trainers support companies with management and personnel development. While studying mathematics in 1989, Jürgen founded his first IT company, which developed into one of the leading system vendors in Germany. Since 2015, his focus has been on sustainable human resources development with his company Finderlohn Personalentwicklung GmbH & Co. KG.

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