Unless you're some sort of unbelievable saint, if you're in business, you will encounter adversarial situations and perhaps even adversaries. If you don't manage these adversarial situations well, it will likely cause you many needless headaches as well as undermine your business or job.
Potential clients and customers naturally have their antennas up for the negative. However false they may be, gossip and rumors will tend to be believed, which can cause real harm to your business. Miscommunication and differences of opinion run rampant. So what are the keys to managing adversarial situations wisely? How do you keep conflicts to a minimum?
1. Dealing with anger.
Your anger is the most powerful catalyst for creating adversarial situations. At the same time, it's only natural that you will occasionally get angry and perhaps unleash your anger on those who are in disagreement with you. Of course, that only inflames the conflict. So what do you do if you blow it? Take whatever time is necessary to get settled and calm. The less time that takes, the better.
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2. A sincere conversation.
Once you've achieved this calm state, talk to the person who got the brunt of your anger, ideally face to face. Letters and emails rarely work. If the other person is upset, they will likely read negativity into such a communication no matter how hard you try to make it positive.
Related: 7 Steps for Keeping Conflict Healthy
When you do talk to the person who was the target of your anger, a sincere tone of voice is essential, like maybe saying, "Hey, I'm really sorry I blew up. But I'd really like to work it out." Just start with something like that and keep your focus not on the details of the conflict or disagreement, but on cultivating a friendly relationship. If you handle it well (no little jabs, passive-aggressive comments, or curve balls), they will more than likely respond favorably and gain more respect for you. If they don't respond favorably or particularly if they are abusive or irrational, it is best to just say something like, "I understand, and maybe we can talk again later." Just the fact that you tried may compel them to think about it and come back with a better response at another time.
3. Taking the high road with coworkers.
It's important not to criticize anyone in front of other people. It's best to assume that whatever you say privately will make its way to the rumor mill, inflamed tenfold. If you talk about an adversarial situation, demonstrate your understanding and compassion toward the other person involved. Express your sadness about the incident. This will not only help the situation, but also gain you points with your coworkers.
It will likely take a good amount of time for coworkers caught up in adversarial situations with you to settle down and join you in "taking the high road." In spite of your most noble efforts, they may be contentious or even abusive for a while. Though the impulse may be to retaliate, it's best to stay away from them in a respectful manner. This will invite them to think about their actions and then come from a more mature perspective.
5. Covert adversarial situations.
Sometimes the worst adversarial situations are right under your nose. Coworkers can speak to you with a pleasant façade, but speak against you when you're not around. They can undermine you, set you up to look bad, or even withhold information you need.
Such covert adversarial situations go unnoticed if you only pay attention to the task and not the relationship. If you're attentive, you can tell how a person is feeling. Sometimes their negativity is more evident through their tone of voice or argumentative disposition. In such situations, a common mistake is to overlook it. It's better to take the time to sit down and have that sincere talk: "Hey, what's going on? Did I say something to upset you?", etc. Make sure you listen and stay open to what they have to say. Be willing to take a punch without getting defensive or retaliatory. Stay focused on the high road and working things out.
Sometimes the adversarial situation is simply an upwardly mobile coworker who believes the best way to get ahead is to pull you down. If you're attentive to having a decent relationship with your coworkers, the likelihood of this happening diminishes. You may also need to sit such a person down and have that talk with them. If that doesn't work, you may need to have a talk with your boss. However, such a talk should be without gossip, criticism, or an emotional charge.
Keep your eyes open. Some people are particularly litigious. Personally, I prefer to avoid such individuals. It's just not worth it. I try to surround myself with people who are open to working things out when the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings arise. Lawsuits are costly, time consuming, and stressful. Once lawyers get involved, the first instruction is to discontinue any further communication with the other party. That halts any likelihood of healthy reconciliation.
Though I have only rarely been involved in litigation, I have found the best approach is to circumvent the traditional chain of events. I've done that by sitting with my lawyer and getting creative with options, always with a focus on positivity without being spiteful, negative, or vengeful.
7. Healthy attitude.
If you approach business with a healthy and p ositive attitude towards others, the likelihood of having adversarial situations goes way down. Yet I'm not talking about oblivion. It's not about being distrustful or paranoid either. It's just a matter of being conscious, aware, and attentive to the interpersonal dynamics in the workplace. Avoiding disagreements and conflicts is largely a matter of learning to speak with people sincerely, wisely, and attentively on a daily basis as well as when conflicts arise. This creates a healthy interpersonal business environment where everyone thrives.