How to Handle Conflict in the Workplace

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable any time people interact and their wishes are different. If properly managed, it can be a source of positive energy in the workplace. If not, it can have devastating effects on a business. Worker productivity declines, the office becomes unpleasant, turnover increases and it can even lead to litigation. As a business owner, it is important to resolve these conflicts before they get out of control and hurt your reputation and profitability.

There are as many reasons for conflict as there are employees, ranging from benign differences of opinion to clashing egos, perceptions of disrespect or unequal treatment, problems with workflow management, poor communications among staff or management, managerial skills that could use improvement, a structure that encourages strife and financial or other incentives that are not aligned with the organization’s goals. Often, different employees in the same conflict have different motives and perspectives.

Business owners and managers should consider a few things:

  • There are ways to manage conflict productively. Learn how to use them. Learn how to work with the different conflict styles and skills you and your individual employees bring to the table.
  • Don’t paper over differences. False harmonies fester. Address disputes before tensions build up and spill over into other aspects of the workplace. Unhappy employees can be toxic to morale, especially when they feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears. They can also signify systemic problems in your business organization. Even though many business owners and managers are reluctant to get involved in workplace disputes, being conflict averse can be costly.
  • You cannot fix what you are not aware of. Take steps to implement a culture of open-ness, so employees will feed you the data you need to evaluate situations.
  • Third parties can really help. A trained mediator can assist in translating among employees who are not communicating and in surfacing the concerns underlying the conflict. Depending on the circumstance, after some initial work, a mediator may also bring in organizational development resources to help fix systemic problems that lead to battling employees or poor team performance. In many cases, managers and business owners find it helpful to add an ombudsman to the mix, someone who is on-site regularly to handle small problems before they turn into big ones.

Conflict is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but if managed well it does not have to weigh your business down

When Business Partners Disagree: A Reason to Call in a Mediator

When business partners disagree, it should not be surprising. There have been disagreements between partners for as long as there have been partners. However, disagreements can reach the point that the daily operations of the business suffer. Perhaps one partner wants to take out a loan that another partner disagrees with. Or, perhaps the partners cannot agree as to whether the business should enter a deal with another company. If a disagreement becomes major or a pattern of disagreement starts to develop, it may become harder and harder for the partners to continue working as a team for the benefit of the business. Fortunately, mediation is a tool that is being used to resolve more and more business partner disputes across the country.

Each mediation is different, depending on the partners and the particular dispute they have. If it is a dispute that so divides them that they could be headed to court, the process may be more formal and more focused on finding a specific resolution – perhaps finding the best compromise between them. If it is an intractable operational dispute, the mediation may focus on removing sticking points from the discussion so the partners are able to separate the forest from the trees and address core points of disagreement – setting up the conditions for more collaborative decision making that is not focused primarily on bargaining positions. It is helpful for a mediator to have enough of a business background to understand both the substantive issues and how businesses actually work. That way, if called for, the mediator can help the parties develop new ideas for resolving their dispute. In any case, the partners are in control of whether, how, when and what kind of resources they devote to reaching agreement, since, unlike a judge or arbitrator, mediators have no decision-making power.

Although people are sometimes reluctant to acknowledge it, many business disputes do have an emotional aspect. Business partners may spend more time with each other than they do with their spouses. When they disagree, they can become just as angry as if they were squabbling spouses. While trained mediators know techniques to mitigate disruptive influences in negotiations, it may be that these influences are at the core of the disagreement. One of the great benefits of mediation if the circumstances call for it is the ability to tell one’s story and have it heard. This often goes a long way toward dismantling roadblocks to agreement. It is also something that most parties are surprised to learn is rarely available in court.

How to Buy a Business in Wellesley MA

There are a number of steps in buying a business.

First, you have to find the business you want! Whether you are expanding your existing business, buying something for investment or buying something to operate, the first step is to identify the “target.” Acquirors use investment bankers, business brokers and networking to locate a target. Using a third party to help sometimes makes the initial contact easier.

The next step is to begin discussing terms. While the details are not final until all the documents are done, the buyer and seller often start to have general discussions of price, whether the existing owners or employees will stay involved in the business and whether any liabilities will be assumed as part of the purchase. The parties may also want to get a sense of each other, to start deciding whether the other is credible and whether the other is likely to stay motivated enough to complete the deal. It may be that one party wants to generate a “term sheet” or “letter of intent” at this stage – an outline of the major business terms that the lawyers can use to start drafting the documents – but most lawyers representing buyers suggest doing some investigation of the business first.

Investigating a business is called “due diligence,” based on a phrase in an old legal case. A prospective buyer must usually sign a confidentiality agreement or nondisclosure agreement. The due diligence process then involves learning about the financial health, history and prospects of the business, its market and customers, its history of employee relations and history of liability and other financial and operational risks. It also involves understanding any major commitments or contracts it has. Buyers sometimes use third parties to help them value a business or conduct other parts of the due diligence investigation. Business lawyers are involved in the investigation early on.

As the due diligence is winding up, parties begin negotiating in earnest. Sometimes they draft a term sheet or letter of intent, but sometimes they go right to the definitive documents. The negotiation process covers a handful of specific points, such as structure (which may be driven by tax concerns), financial terms, noncompetition agreements for former owners and the “representations and warranties” that shift risk between the parties over factual matters or uncertainties involving the business. Even though the legal documentation may seem complicated, it is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to buying a business.