How to resolve a business conflict

Whether it is a supplier who fails to honour their agreements, or a disagreement with a fellow partner: as a business owner, you sometimes have to deal with conflicts. How do you handle a conflict and what options do you have to resolve conflicts without going to court?

1. Take a rational decision

Does the problem hit your company at its core and threaten its survival? Does it involve a lot of money? Or does it affect you mostly emotionally, but can you get on with your business? Try to weigh up the pros and cons rationally and sleep on the conclusion overnight. If you are sure you want to take action, check out the following steps.

2. Seek help and ask for advice

You do not want a protracted legal process, but you do not yet know if you can avoid it and how to do that. Andrée Tankink, a lawyer and business adviser at KVK, says: “I always advise business owners in difficult situations: first check what your rights and options are, find out how you are insured, for example, and ask for advice.”

3. Open the conversation

Once you know what options you have, you can start talking with the other party. Think beforehand about how important they are to you. The long-term relationship is probably more important than getting your due in the short term. Niels van der Noll, mediator and the owner at Pleitbezorger, tells us: “Make an appointment for just the two of you, without anyone else around. A 1-to-1 conversation creates balance in the conversation. By meeting each other in person, you can also see the non-verbal communication.”

Tips for the conversation:

  • Sometimes making time for each other at all and starting the conversation is already a win. Make a start: do we want to solve this together? The rest can be addressed in a follow-up appointment.
  • Be open and honest with each other. Are we talking about the same problem, or is there actually something else going on? Do we agree on the facts?
  • Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. And read between the lines.
  • Look at your own role. Indicate what you can do to improve the situation.
  • Keep the conversation businesslike. Try to separate the content from the personal aspects.
  • Look for arguments that are in the other person’s interest. For example: if they pay part of the rent, that is better than nothing.
  • And if you cannot work things out together, decide together whether and how much money you want to put into finding a solution.

Andrée Tankink adds: “One thing that is really important is to take your time and be calm. Keep in mind that a big problem cannot be solved in 15 minutes.”

4. Enlist help, such as from a business mediator

If you cannot work it out together after one or more talks, get help. One option is to engage a facilitator. This can be done, for example, through business mediation, which helps parties resolve their conflicts together with the help of an independent third party.

Van der Noll believes it is important to have the space to express how you feel. “An independent facilitator can help with that without escalating things, so the parties can focus on the business side of things after expressing their emotions.” Once you find a solution, you can get on with your business. Keep investing in your relationships. If the chemistry is right, talking about possible future issues and problems usually becomes easier.

Did you not manage to find a solution? You can still decide to pursue legal action, or seek further specialist help.