A Positive Approach to Conflict
Pet store managers must be prepared to resolve conflicts between staff members in a way that strengthens the team overall.
Conflicts are a fact of life in any pet store. They arise for even the most productive teams, as people with different habits, preferences and opinions work together. So, taking responsibility for conflict and helping associates resolve their issues with each other is an important part of your job as manager.
Conflict can ruin team dynamics and destroy trust. Conflict also negatively impacts your team’s ability to achieve your store’s performance and profitability goals. To avoid these negative results, you must create an environment where conflicts are recognized and defused as they arise.
Conflict happens every day, in every pet store. Too often, however, people choose to avoid the situation rather than take a direct approach to resolve it. To be more proactive about conflict, start by debunking three common myths:
Myth 1: Conflict Isn’t Nice
It’s only natural to want to work in a pleasant environment with people we like and who like us. That’s why so many people try to follow the principle, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all,” and ignore or avoid confronting conflict.
Unfortunately, the instinct to be nice can lead to situations where someone suffers in silence while holding a grudge, damaging your team’s effectiveness. Instead, encourage team members to focus on treating others in a considerate manner. This definition of “nice” acknowledges that you can be respectful of others’ ideas and needs while still representing your side of an issue.
Myth 2: Conflict Always Results in a Winner & a Loser
People tend to avoid confronting conflict because they assume there must be a winner and a loser—and they don’t want to lose. Although this may be true at a sports event, in the workplace, it’s possible to have a win-win outcome where a compromise solution benefits everyone.
Myth 3: Conflict Only Happens on Bad Teams
The truth is that even the most productive teams have conflict. Teams that work well together may actually have more conflict, since members know that sharing different approaches and points of view is encouraged.
Effective teams have spirited discussions. They challenge each other. They question decisions. But they do so in a way that expresses respect for individual members, loyalty to the team itself and commitment to the store.
Ignoring or Reacting Negatively to Conflict
Unfortunately, rather than reacting to conflict with a positive, direct approach, too many people choose to ignore the issue. Instead of trying to actively manage the conflict, they desperately hope things will get better.
Face it: Unless you take definitive action, a conflict situation will probably get worse. Ignoring the issue will likely hurt your store, resulting in hidden resentment, damaged team spirit, declining productivity and reoccurring problems.
When confronted with conflict, many people react negatively. Rather than using their energy to talk with the right person about the real issue, they may:
- Give other team members the cold shoulder by refusing to communicate or giving the silent treatment;
- Backstab their opponent by being pleasant face-to-face but criticizing the other person behind their back;
- Blow up suddenly in the middle of a conversation and then apologize profusely later, only to repeat the behavior again and again;
- Bring up a painful, unresolved issue from the past that distracts everyone from dealing with the current problem;
- Make personal attacks in front of others, then later claim they were just kidding; or
- Start fights over small, irrelevant topics rather than getting to the real issue.
Rather than helping to resolve the conflict, these behaviors can result in a number of undesirable results, including bitter arguments, damaged relationships, hurt feelings and lowered job satisfaction. Ultimately, these negative behaviors can make your store a place where no one wants to work.
The Benefits of Conflict
Once you recognize that conflict is normal in a dynamic work setting like your pet store, the next step is to recognize it as an opportunity. Conflict is a signal that a problem needs to be solved. Usually, conflict indicates that issues, expectations or responsibilities need additional clarification.
When addressed appropriately, conflict benefits your store by allowing employees and managers to:
- Bring up opposing ideas and know others will listen;
- Have spirited arguments without personal attacks;
- Resolve problems in a way that preserves team spirit;
- Find creative solutions by combining various viewpoints;
- Respect each other for their differences, even if they do not always agree; and
- Enjoy their job more—and the people they work with.
Conflict is an opportunity for good things to happen—but it is not a guarantee. To make conflict work for you and your store, keep your focus positive:
- Focus on issues, not personalities. An objective attitude helps people stay clear-headed, so they can listen better and solve problems more effectively.
- Focus on the future, not the past. Emphasize the future, and you will find that people will work with you, not against you, to resolve conflict. Avoid rehashing past conflicts; focus on the future, where anything is possible.
- Focus on solutions, not blame. When you blame someone, that person will respond in kind, making a bad situation worse. Focus on what needs to be done to address the problem rather than dwelling on whose fault it is.
As a manager, helping team members resolve conflicts among themselves is also your responsibility. In addition to modeling a positive, proactive approach to resolving conflict, you should facilitate effective intervention meetings when your team comes to you for help. Be on the lookout for potential issues, and take decisive action to help employees face conflict head on.
Conflict is a daily occurrence in any pet store. As a manager, taking a proactive approach allows you to recognize conflict as an opportunity to resolve an underlying problem. Being positive will also help you create an enjoyable work environment where ideas are shared freely, allowing your entire team to work together to find creative solutions to meet your store’s sales and service goals.
Stephanie A. Kaplan is the director of online education for the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA). She manages PIDA’s free online training program, Pet Store Pro. Since it was first launched in 2008, over 5,600 retailers have turned to Pet Store Pro for brand-neutral training on critical skills for associates, managers and owners. Pet Store Pro is free to qualified retailers; visit petstorepro.com to register and begin using the program.
This article was adapted from “Managing Workplace Conflict,” one of 28 chapters available as part of Pet Store Pro’s online training. Lessons cover topics including taking a positive approach to conflict, dealing with difficult people, analyzing conflict types and dimensions and facilitating conflict intervention meetings. The chapter also includes a downloadable worksheet to help managers develop an action plan for conflict resolution.