Great minds don’t always think alike

Conflict is an inevitable part of running a small business, says chartered organisational psychologist Frank O’Connor, but managed the right way, it can lead to positive things, like new ideas, products, services, or ways of doing business.

Making room for fresh ideas

People don’t always agree. If you want your workers to feel valued, engaged and trusted, they need be able to voice their opinions – even if they’re different to your own.

“If everyone agrees with the boss’s point of view all the time, your company’s directions and efforts will get stale fast,” says O’Connor. 

Navigating a difference of opinion might not come naturally, but listening to different ideas and viewpoints rather than shutting them down, could lead to places you wouldn’t get to on your own.  “Effectively resolving conflicts within your company can actually build a strong and diverse team that will keep fresh ideas and creativity flowing.”

Listening rather than arguing

O’Connor says most people aren’t as good at listening as they think they are. There’s a tendency to treat a conversation as a chance to get your own point of view across, waiting for a pause so you can jump in with your own opinions.

But he says if you want to resolve issues, build trust and manage conflict well, the first step is to actively listen.

This means:

  • Not interrupting the other person to disagree or evaluate what they’re saying.
  • Letting the other person know you’re paying attention by nodding or saying ‘yes’ or “I see’.
  • Repeating back the gist of what they’re saying. Paraphrase it into your own words, to show you’ve been listening and understand what they’re saying.
  • Asking questions. This shows you’ve been paying attention and helps move the discussion forward. Try to ask open-ended questions that need more than a one or two word answer.
  • Identify emotions. Giving the other person’s feelings a name shows you’re identifying with how they feel. Eg, “You sound pretty hurt. I can see how it doesn’t seem fair.”

Active listening is the first step in understanding each other’s points of view. It leads to:

  • Empathy: By really listening, you’ll get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.
  • Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when the other person feels it back. It’s a sign you’re building trust.
  • Influence: Once there’s trust, you’ve earned the right to work on solving the problem with them.
  • Change: Building trust means you’ll both be less defensive and can work together to come to an agreement on what has to be done.

Tools and resources

Experts have recommended the following tools and resources to help small business owners communicate with employees and build a resilient business.

How to be a good leader

How to motivate your staff

Shaping your work culture

Worksheet: Prepare to give motivating feedback [PDF, 185 KB]

Worksheet: Assessing performance [PDF, 165 KB]

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