I’ve witnessed enough conflict between businesses and customers, personally and professionally, to have a good idea of how to avoid it and if it occurs, to resolve it. Firstly, and most importantly, differences are endemic to human beings. We see things, value things, process things, and prioritise things differently – sometimes very differently, so it is natural that occasionally, a potential conflict may arise. But dealing with disagreements is a learned skill – we are not born with it and realising that we have the ability to soften a potential argument and to create a solution that can reverse the initial sticking point, or points, is not overly difficult.

The first step is accepting and acknowledging there is a issue that requires attention, thought, and strategy. Business owners who ignore their customers’ concerns invariably make the whole situation worse than it ever needs to be. Avoiding, deflecting, being unavailable, just sets a customer up for further grievance and the more of that there is, the harder it is to bring them back to deal with what upset them in the first place.

The best guides in how to cool rising tensions are those who are very good at doing it, and those who are not, and flexibility at the beginning, as well as listening, are paramount. Those who fuel the fire generally can’t budge from their position and are too busy talking forcefully, or yelling, to even hear what the other party may have to say. There is little hope of de-escalation when the potential for remedy is eroded by anger and noise. Those who listen and are willing to hear another’s point of view illustrate a willingness to compromise and to solve a problem. A calm demeanor and a soft voice also sets the tone for the other person to do that as well.

Another crucial element in conflict resolution is using time correctly. By that I mean, weighing up the other party’s position and ascertaining whether to attempt to remedy the situation as soon as possible, or to take some time to let a temper cool, process, and then initiate contact. Again it is those who do this badly who have formed most of my opinion on what not to do.

Let’s say a customer brings up a concern, or an evaluation, or a criticism, and it appears unreasonable on the face of it, and furthermore, it hurts personally. Well, to quote every mafia movie ever made, it’s business  – it’s not personal. In business there is nearly always a way to resolve a problem, with a bit of give and take. The thing most definitely not to do, is to fly off the handle and launch a tirade of abuse and vitriol. That sets the agenda from the very beginning and ensures it will be a difficult road to establish a solution to both parties’ satisfaction.

In fact, in nearly all cases, that will be the end of it, before any chance of resolution. Anger only creates more anger and can escalate so quickly. A responsible business owner needs to fully understand how damaging that can be and head it off at the pass – by taking time to process difficult words and then offering a willingness to listen and to negotiate.

This may sound basic, or even obvious but I have seen far too many examples of angry initial responses to think that that is the case.  Learning to count to ten is not a cliche for the sake of it. It works. Think on how many times we have said things in the heat of the moment that we wish we could take back later.

The next important tool in conflict resolution is compromise. If two parties hold firm to their original positions and refuse to budge, then there is no hope of ending a disagreement and reaching a satisfactory agreement – it just can’t be done. Compromise is not losing either, even if there is a cost. The winning is in avoiding further unpleasantness and turning an initially dissatisfied customer into a contented and satisfied one.