A prospect backs out of a contract after you've put hours into it. A plumber slips a major rate hike into the invoice for a significant job. An office employee is routinely late for work. Someone doesn't like someone else's tone of voice.
A vendor botches the same order four times. A lead carpenter can't seem to tie up loose ends. A high-maintenance designer humiliates a valued trade contractor.
A crew member lets a client's dog out, and it's hit by a car. Staffers are grumbling about you behind your back. A client challenges your business acumen and personal integrity. You and your partner are at loggerheads on how aggressively to grow.
From the mildly frustrating to the emotionally crippling, potentially high-stakes scenarios play themselves out every day in the remodeling world. Some begin benignly or seem tolerable, and many remodelers would rather suffer through them instead of openly confronting them. Other scenarios are clearly huge, a threat to an important relationship or your company's future.
Conflict, it turns out, is a little like cholesterol. There's the bad kind that most people have too much of, and that typically results from acting on the “fight or fiight” instinct. By lashing out, you often say or do things you later regret, exacerbating mutual resentment or anger. Ignoring the problem rarely makes it go away, and often further inflames it.
Then there's the good kind of conflict. Not only can a healthy willingness to step up to problems resolve the immediate issue at hand, but it can also isolate and repair the core issues causing them, can inspire accountability, and, most remarkably, can improve relationships.
HITTING ‘PAUSE' How do you respond when things don't work out as planned? When someone doesn't live up to his or her end of the bargain, or they fall short of your expectations, or you and they just can't agree?
The right answer, in short, is to use time, self-awareness, and focus to successfully address the issue. To summarize the strategies of management consultants and remodelers interviewed for this article: Instead of being emotional, be respectful and curious; instead of pointing out what went wrong, share what you want to accomplish; instead of doing all the talking, do a lot of listening; instead of making it all about them, leave room for the possibility that maybe it's also about something you did or didn't do.
In a study of more than 25,000 people across dozens of organizations, researchers at Vital Smarts, a corporate training and consulting company in Provo, Utah, set out to identify why some people are so good at turning difficult conversations into healthy outcomes. “We learned the most when the stakes were high,” says Ron McMillan, a co-founder of Vital Smarts and co-author, with his three partners, of the books Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations.
“Most of us do our worst when it matters the most,” McMillan says. Gifted communicators, in contrast, shined brightest “when they were confronting someone more powerful than themselves, or when the other person was defensive.” For them, he says, “confronting tough issues made the problem go away, the relationship stronger, and the other person change” for the better.