Conflict Unavoidance

Feb. 7, 2020

In the September 2019 issue of Modern Tire Dealer, Mike Townsend discussed the importance of building the right kind of trust with your employees. In this article — the second installment in a five-part series about steps you can take to build the best possible team at your dealership — Townsend looks at the benefits of what he calls “healthy conflict,” and how effective management of conflict can help further your efforts.

Now that you’ve established the right kind of trust with your employees, let’s look at something that you, as a leader, will — at some point — contend with when dealing with subordinates: conflict.

Virtually every quote I’ve ever read about conflict is negative. People avoid conflict, especially in business.

Maybe the reason is because there is a perception that conflict leads to unhappy results. People end up with hurt feelings. Morale can suffer, as a result. You can even lose good employees due to unmanaged conflict.

Yes, conflict can be unhealthy. Sometimes it can hurt you. But some forms of conflict can benefit your business.

So, what is healthy conflict? How do you manage healthy conflict? And when should you experience it?

Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar. A manager — or even another respected employee — proposes something that needs to change in your dealership’s day-to-day operation. This person feels safe about proposing the new idea and knows that you will strongly consider the suggestion without an immediate, knee-jerk “No.”The person also is comfortable in the knowledge that you will carefully consider the new concept. And if the idea is rejected, he or she knows that you will provide a valid reason that doesn’t discourage or belittle.

Think about it in the terms of the sales process. You present what you believe is an obvious solution to a customer’s problem. That customer immediately shoots down your suggestion without a valid reason. If you’ve been in this situation before, you know how demoralizing it can be.

This is where many leaders begin to lose an employee’s trust and can unintentionally cause that well-meaning employee to become disengaged.

The three E’s

Today’s employees want to be enabled, engaged, and energized. As you work toward this goal, you will have disagreements with your employees from time to time. It’s a natural part of the process. How you handle those disagreements is what’s important. As an example, when you disagree with a suggested change that an employee feels should happen, it is critical that the employee understands why it can’t happen. And it’s critical to ensure that employee is on-board with your plan for the business, moving forward.

Most employees will not let you know that they are disappointed. Great managers will know how to recognize this unspoken emotion, reassure the employee that his or her contributions are valued and leave the door open for further discussion, all before the employee goes back to his or her daily routine. This is “intentional” conflict resolution.

The danger of not being intentional is that it creates employee disengagement. To enable, engage and energize, you must provide answers to all of the following questions: How? Who? What? Where? When? Why?

If it helps, think of healthy conflict management as a game of ping-pong. You know you are on the right track if you are unafraid to let the employee hit a few slams across the net.

Once you have gained the right kind of employee trust and are comfortable with managing healthy conflict, you will be ready to discuss — and work through — what you and your employees will commit to during the change.

And that’s the topic of the next installment in this series.    ■

Mike Townsend is owner of Townsend Strategies, a sales and leadership training and marketing firm. He has 30 years of sales experience, 13 of them in the tire industry. As a Six Sigma black belt and professional trainer, Townsend says he “has witnessed every scenario and heard every objection in the retail tire environment across every state in the U.S.” For more information, call (865) 318-4588 or (800) 319-8552, or email Townsend at [email protected].

About the Author

Mike Townsend

Mike Townsend is the owner of Townsend Strategies, a sales and leadership training and marketing company that advises independent tire dealerships. To contact Townsend, email him at [email protected].