Making Conflict Constructive

Making Conflict Constructive, by Cindy Wofford Braun

The drive-up window at the local coffee shop felt safe. A TV monitor displayed each car that pulled up at the order menu, and two baristas worked the early morning shift. The coffee machines were humming, upbeat music was playing, and the smell of fresh coffee tickled the senses. If a conflict was brewing, it was going to arrive as the next driver pulled up to get their morning fix.

Many years ago, I owned this local coffee shop, and conflicts were rare but memorable. One in particular still stands out to me, and as a person who preferred to stuff emotions in the face of conflict, this experience completely changed my approach.

This particular customer had very specific expectations for two specialty drinks. These drinks had to be hand-made and delivered piping hot, with just the right combination of ingredients and foam milk. For three days in a row, this customer found something wrong and berated my employees until they received refunds. Finally, the baristas asked for help from management. Why did these customers keep coming back for more? Were they only looking for free drinks? Was it time to fire my customer?

How does it make you feel when you observe or participate in conflict? Do you feel competent or even comfortable?
To embrace conflict, it is important to inspect your expectations. After all, the customer, spouse, significant other or the opposing party is approaching you with expectations that you may or may not be able to meet – or even be aware of! In many cases, anger is caused by blocked goals or unmet expectations. Once you realize this truth, I have found it is easier to feel the fear and do it anyway... moving toward the conflict.

As an owner/manager of my coffee shop, I knew it was time to coach the employees on conflict resolution. We installed the following model:
1)     Initiate (consider the best approach and let the other party know)
2)     Validate (share perspectives to establish common understanding)
3)     Negotiate (brainstorm and problem solve for the future)
4)     Communicate (summarize the agreed-upon solution)
5)     Evaluate (plan for follow up)

Constructive conflict management can be achieved just like making a specialty coffee drink. It takes the right tools, ingredients and process to achieve a quality outcome. In fact, our problem customer became our most loyal and consistent business over the next three years, returning five times a week for a revenue gain of over $7,000. They were so excited that someone validated their concern and treated them with kindness and respect that they personally walked into the store and shared compliments to our quality customer service team over other coffee shops they had visited.

What is the cost of conflict in your organization? Would you like to embrace and share tools for your team to apply at work and home for future conflict resolution? Contact our Solutions Team today at 402-779-5846, or email us at [email protected] for a consultation today!

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