If you are like me, not a day goes by without you and your startup team needing to manage some conflict. You and your co-founders have different perspectives on what features to prioritize or which business strategy to adopt or whether a job candidate should be hired. No need to fret: a joint problem-solving approach to handling conflict can generate creative solutions and stronger relationships.
Here are four simple tips for resolving differences effectively on your start-up team:
1. Ask about their perspective
You probably feel very comfortable with your viewpoint and want to make it known immediately. Unfortunately, your co-founder likely feels just as strongly about her perspective and may find it hard to listen to yours while she’s focused on articulating her own. Ask questions about her point of view before sharing your reasoning path. Try open-ended questions such as, “What benefits do you think will result from this approach?” or, “How have you reached that conclusion?” Listening carefully to the answers can help you calibrate your argument to address what’s most important to them.
2. Acknowledge their point of view
Does your business partner keep on repeating himself even though you know exactly what he thinks about the monetization strategies you’ve discussed? It might be because he doesn’t feel heard. Try demonstrating your understanding of his viewpoint even if you don’t agree: “It sounds like your view is that a premium subscription model would give us the best chance of developing a viable revenue stream because of its widespread adoption by our competitors. Is that right?” Avoid negating your acknowledgement with the word “but”. Instead, use the word “and” to build your argument on top of his.
3. Ask for criticism of your proposal
Do your partner’s concerns about your proposed business strategy remain unclear? Rather than taking for granted that he will voluntarily share information about his goals and concerns, take advantage of people’s natural appetite for criticism. Ask the counter-intuitive question, “What would be wrong with this approach?” Every criticism he shares represents a concern not addressed by your initial proposal. Use those insights to develop a new proposal he’d be more inclined to say yes to.
4. Consider consulting another party
Still at loggerheads? Suggest an impartial third party you can consult together. Agree first on whose opinion—perhaps an investor or an advisor or a mutual friend—ought to be taken into account before seeking them out. Deciding together on the objective data point you plan to investigate before learning whose view will be supported adds legitimacy and credibility to that perspective.
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