Imagine you are in a small yacht, gliding across a calm bay with a gentle breeze behind you, the sun sparkling on the water. While your boat has a little rot in the hull and some small holes in the sails, under these pleasant conditions this is not a problem.
But what if a storm unexpectedly descends, and soon strong winds stretch your sails to the limit, and powerful waves start to bash into your boat. Now you're in trouble.
Relationships are like this. In calm, predictable times, underlying tensions can exist without creating any noticeable problems. But as the winds of change knock our confidence and stretch our coping resources, existing relationship weaknesses will often be exposed.
No doubt many of you have recently seen or experienced an increase in work or family conflict, especially if people have been sitting on resentments. This is normal during periods of uncertainty and rapid change. The important thing is, we now do what we can, to strengthen our relationships so we can focus on navigating our way through these waves of change.
Here are eight practical tips to help resolve conflicts that may arise with family members, work colleagues, franchise partners or clients. Most of these involve the practice of empathy, which is a skill that can be developed.
#1. Listen for understanding. Give your full attention to the words as well as the feelings behind what the other person is saying.This is known as active listening. It helps if you can paraphrase in your own words what they said, and why this is important to them. Paraphrasing is a practical and effective way to show empathy and will be appreciated.
#2. Recognise what you have in common. When we feel at odds with others, our mind tends to focus on what we disagree on, making our differences seem more important than they need to be. Talking about what you have in common can help to generate a more positive mood, and start to dissolve feelings of animosity.
#3. Express appreciation. Look for helpful things the other person has done, no matter how small. While a thank you costs nothing, it can generate good feelings in others. Recognising and appreciating their efforts will also encourage them to be more open and constructive with you.
#4. Forgive and forget. The emotional energy we burn from anger and resentment is significant and can ultimately create physical and emotional health problems. As the Buddha said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
#5. Nip it in the bud. Conflict never appears out of nowhere. It builds up over time, until an innocent comment, or what may seem to be a small thing, can trigger an eruption. If something is playing on your mind, better to talk about it so it doesn't build up. When raising an issue, take responsibility by sharing how you feel and why this is important to you.
#6. Value differences. There is a huge body of research showing that a diversity of views, experiences and skills in teams drives better results,providing people value their differences. And there's a bonus here. Every time we actively value someone who is very different from us, we strengthen our empathy muscles.
#7. Hold strong opinions loosely. Bring a little humility and genuine curiosity to learn something from the other person. When we justify our position to prove we are right, we just make the other person wrong....and more frustrated! By the way, curiosity is also good for the brain as it stimulates dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us to think clearly.
#8. Seek help from a third party. I have regularly brought in a facilitator to help me resolve sticky relationship issues in my business. An objective third party can take the heat out of an emotional conversation, and help to create a safe space for people to express themselves. This is of course the principle behind mediation and marriage counselling, and is why both are often successful in resolving strained business and personal relationships.
I hope you found these eight tips useful. If I had to summarise the most important component of empathy, it’s wishing the other person well in your heart. The rest often flows from this.
While the challenges we are facing will no doubt bring out difficulties in some of your relationships, only by working together and supporting each other will we ultimately prevail. And with that I wish you well.
Until next time,
Franchise Relationships Institute
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