Unless you are a particularly sadistic person, no one enjoys conflict. Whether it is in business or in our personal lives, it would be perfect if we “all just got along”.
However, in the world we live in today, conflict is quite frankly, inevitable.
The key is to deal with conflict in a way that achieves outcomes for both you and the other party involved. This means that litigation should be the very last option exercised, especially in your business dealings.
You want your hard earned money spent on building your business, not placed in your lawyer’s bank account.
Often our personalities dictate how we immediately react to conflict, however, we cannot let our emotions dictate, or get in the way of, an outcome. As hard as it may be, the best skill you can acquire in your business life is to remove emotion from a heated situation.
1. Listen to Your Client
You will often know when the conflict arises.
Your Client will state that they are unhappy about something to do with their business dealings with you.
The first thing you should do is allow them to tell you what is really wrong and not shut them out. Allow them the chance to speak their mind, share their concerns and do not interrupt them, however tempting it may be if they are saying things that are inaccurate.
2. Acknowledge Their Concerns
It does not hurt to say words such as “I acknowledge that this may be an issue for you”.
Do not make any admissions that you have caused the issue, at this stage, however a client needs to have faith in you that you have listened and understood.
I recommend repeating back to them their key concerns, using phrases such as “so what I hear is that….” and “from what I understand, you say that….”.
Ask non-judgemental questions that will assist in getting them to state their position. I also find that its important to ask one simple question at the end, and it is, “what would you like to be the outcome to be if we work through this?”
3. Seek and State the Facts
In your own mind, seek the facts and remove the personal comments and emotion.
You are likely to have heard statements that contain some untruths or inaccuracies. The important part of conflict but often the trickiest part for us all is to consider the situation on an objective basis. It is being able to view a conflict objectively. By that, I mean, state the “who, what, where, when and why” without any emotion guiding you.
If you cannot do this immediately, give yourself some time and approach the matter once you have calmed down.
It does not hurt to say statements such as “I understand that this is important to you and I am taking your concerns with the seriousness that it deserves. I will take the information you have given me and sit with it and respond when I know a little more about what has happened at my end.”
If the matter is of serious concern, this is the perfect time to speak with a legal professional, who may wish to advise you of your legal position and the strength of your client’s claim. Your lawyer will also assist by working with you to consider the risks associated with the options available to you, if there are any.
4. Explain The Solution
With a clear understanding of the problem and the objective facts, you are best to return to your client and explain whether you are able to reach the outcome that they stated that they desire.
In instances where you cannot give them what they say they want (or if you believe that they are not entitled to the outcome they are seeking), then you need to ensure that prior to the discussion commencing, you have alternative solutions available to present to them.
You need to then tell them how it will be that the outcome can be achieved and the steps to take to get there.
5. Be Firm
It is inevitable that there will be times that you simply cannot make clients happy.
This may be because the Client has asked for something ludicrous, or asked you to accept blame for what simply was not your error. In these instances, it is critical that you remain firm, fair and friendly at all times.
If you have reached an amicable resolution, stick to it with conviction. Don’t waiver or let the client push you around if they later decide the solution isn’t good enough.
If the client is still unhappy, you’re best to either approach or return to, your legal advisor to find a way that this issue can be dealt with without recourse to litigation.
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Kathryn Adams is the Principal Lawyer of Hallett Law, has global experience in law, working for mid to top tier law firms in both Australia and the United Kingdom. She specialises in commercial, corporate and employment law.
After building her career in private practice, she relocated to Singapore to manage the regional legal affairs of a global recruitment company listed on the London Stock Exchange, and was responsible for providing legal advice to the company’s seventeen offices in nine countries around the Asia Pacific region.
Upon her return to Australia she gained academic experience by teaching at universities in the areas of corporate law, commercial law, internet law, and alternative dispute resolution. She has now returned to private practice based in the Barossa region, South Australia.