Conflict is an inevitable part of working with others– employees get fired, vendors’ overcharge, clients get pissed, insurance agents drop policies, negotiations go south. When it all hits the fan, as a business owner, it may all fall on you.
Entrepreneurs possess a great amount of decision making power; you control the money, and in the eyes of your subordinates, you control their “future”. Owning a small business may be one’s biggest dream; however, it can quickly become a nightmare, should you become the target of a vindictive ex-employee, client, vendor, etc.
Here are six tips to help you deescalate potentially violent workplace conflicts and protect yourself–and your business–from malicious intent:
Keep it Public
I found this particularly challenging when managing my husband’s service business, as it routinely operated in desolate, rural areas. When I’d drive up to check on work crews, I’d often find myself grossly outnumbered by employees “chewing the cud” vs. fulfilling work orders. One female supervisor confronting ten general laborers, regarding sub-par performance miles away from the “civilized world,” is a less than advisable management strategy. Protect yourself by being aware on your surrounding when conducting business, especially confrontations. Don’t end up miles off “County Road 311”, and attempt to effectively motivate a team of in-subordinates when outnumbered ten-to-one.
Remember: Power of a Party
My previous insurance agent’s typo error forced my company to lose an annually renewable commercial contract, valued at $42,000 a year. Infuriated by this unnecessary occurrence, I confronted the impotent agent face-to-face, three minutes before 5 pm, after his office staff had gone home. His hostile response—cursing, combined with aggressive body language—left me nowhere to go but out the door, in attempt to avoid a quickly escalating altercation.
The following day, I returned during normal business hours, and was accompanied by my business partner and crew supervisor. The agent’s response was much less threatening, as his unnecessary violent inclinations that were so vividly displayed the day before, were held in check by the power of a “party”. Never confront an offender alone. Never fire anyone alone. Exploit the power of numbers. De-escalation is a lot easier to facilitate when it’s a team effort, and the numbers are on your side.
If Suzy Q came in late three times this week—write it down. If John Smith failed to perform assigned tasks following your managerial intervention—write it down. If Billy the Brazen drove his truck through your storefront’s newly installed entrance (yes, this happened)—write it all down. Disgruntled individuals have a tendency to dismiss the facts when confronted. Hit them head on with an irrefutable, detailed inventory of facts surrounding the issue. Such “ammo” allows you to more effectively defend your position and execute necessary actions to effectively handle personnel issues.
Call in Back-up
On Sunday afternoons, I exhibited my keyboard skills at a local retirement community, pounding out strong southern hymns for musically-inclined residents. Mid-chorus “Onward Christian Soldiers”, our choir was interrupted by a nude, profanity-spewing “visitor” streaking across the music hall, flailing a baseball bat. What the…? Concerned for the senior resident’s safety, I called local law enforcement to contain the unexpected scene.
Turns out the unsightly streaker was a terminated employee, whose nudity and violence was influenced by the excessive use of an illegal mind altering substance. Without the quick response of local law enforcement agents, trained to handle such irrational individuals, such an event might have escalated quickly into something quite dangerous. Don’t be afraid to call in reinforcements—aka law enforcement, security, etc. Better to call and not need, than to need and not have. When confronting disgruntled people, emotions tend to run wildly unpredictable. If you see the potential for a simple discussion to escalate into an all-out brawl, call in the backup. Better to be safe than sorry.
Maintain Personal Privacy
In effort to reward my startup’s employees for all their hard work, I hosted a company cookout at my home. I fired up the grill, passed out the cold ones, and had a wonderful evening with those whose hard work had played a pivotal role in my company’s launch. Few months later, I was forced to terminate one of these founding employees due to inappropriate and endangering behavior. Well versed with my residence and work schedule, the pissed off employee began loitering in front of my house, and parking his car on my street in a very stalkerish manner. Not cool.
Keep your personal life personal.
Your receptionist does not need to know where your five year old goes to preschool, nor does your bookkeeper need to know your home address. All information regarding family member locations and personal schedules should maintain a “mum’s the word” status as you operate your company. While it’s tempting to “let down our guard” around loyal employees, such compromising intel can be extremely harmful in the hands of a vindictive employee or customer. Backyard BBQ? Take it to the park.
Incorporate these workplace conflict tips into your daily operations to help your entrepreneurial pursuits manifest into the career of your dreams.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Hannah Becker, serial entrepreneur and MBA student, is author of The Motivated Millennial: An Entrepreneurial Guidebook for Generation Y. Passionate about entrepreneurship, Hannah is committed to encouraging millennials to pursue their entrepreneurship dreams. When not rolling out a new marketing plan, or re-vamping product development, Hannah can be found training for her next race. Visit www.themotivatedmillennial.com for more information and resources to aide your entrepreneurial journey. Connect with @MotivatedGenY on Twitter.
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