Here at the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota, conflict plays a significant role in our day-to-day operations. But did you know that customer complaints make up less than 2% of the total instances of service we provide to the public? It’s true! The vast majority of interactions take place online (www.bbb.org) when people are checking out companies before making their final purchasing decisions, a step that greatly reduces the number of complaints we receive – as well as the number of headaches experienced by customers.
Still, conflicts will arise, even when both parties have the best intentions. As with every dispute, how each party deals with conflict is the key to whether a resolution can be reached or whether the dispute will fester and build. Parties with open minds that are focused on solutions can often work through a dispute. Parties that dwell in the past and focus on their anger and hurt feelings are often doomed to carry that conflict with them for weeks, months, or even years.
Few people would argue the proposition that the world has become an angrier place. Part of this can certainly be traced to economic uncertainty. The tighter money becomes, the more stressed people get. And it’s tough enough to deal with conflict when all of your basic needs are being fulfilled. Throw in the added pressure of struggling to make ends meet, and all the elements are in place for frustrations to build and blow-ups to occur.
At the BBB, we feel that everyone needs to start learning how to better deal with conflict. Too often, the first approach to dealing with conflict is to get angry, say things (or, worse, do things) we wind up regretting and then cut off all lines of communication. That’s not a healthy – or a realistic approach – to solving problems.
It’s hard to say if things have always been this way or if soap operas, movies and TV dramas have taught us all that when we’re angry, the first thing we should do is storm out of a room. To be sure, there are times when putting some distance between you and the conflict is absolutely necessary. But generally the only way disputes get resolved is when the parties come together and are able to discuss things rationally.
An important thing for all of us to recognize upfront is that disagreements are going to happen. It’s a fact of life, even between family members and friends. What’s both interesting and sad about the way conflict is dealt with (or not dealt with) in our society is the fact that one disagreement can wind up outweighing years of friendship and countless happy memories. In our view, this is like throwing away a vase full of fresh roses after discovering a single thorn. It’s not a proportional response, nor does it make a lot of sense.
Now, it’s doubtful anyone who’s currently in the midst of a dispute would want to extend the duration of that conflict, if given a choice. At the BBB, at the onset of our conciliation and mediation processes, we try to remind both sides, business and customer, that there is a real value in being able to work through problems and allowing each party to move on with their lives. From there, we try to take the focus off of the past and place it on the future, on possible win/win solutions.
It’s tough to express the satisfaction a person feels when a dispute is resolved. Hopefully that’s a feeling everyone knows. In our role as third-party facilitators, we experience a bit of that feeling too. There’s nothing like watching two parties, who came into a room barely willing to look at each other, walk out together smiling and looking forward to the rest of the day with their disagreement behind them. That’s something we hope to see more of in the coming year.
The Chinese symbol for conflict represents both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity.’ That might sound like a paradox, but we at the BBB understand exactly what it means. There is the danger that the conflict will deepen, and conversely an opportunity to bring opposing sides into balance. Our hope is that we can slowly help to shift attention more to the ‘opportunity’ side of the coin and that as a people, when it comes to conflict, we will once again become focused more on building bridges than burning them.