Conflict can take on many forms in our lives. We will run into it at work and in our personal lives, so it’s really futile to try to avoid it and turn the other way when we see it approaching. Heidi Rasmussen, co-founder and COO of freshbenies and 4word Board Member, discusses why much of conflict comes down to a lack of expectations being effectively communicated.
When did you first realize the importance of dealing with conflict in your career?
I was a young Assistant Store Manager at JCPenney and my Store Manager had terminal cancer, so I was overseeing everything and everyone. In my past, if an employee wasn’t doing their job, I would just step in and do it for them. That was easy; I was capable and I could do it.
During this time in my career, there wasn’t enough of “me” to go around, so I was forced to have those tough, candid conversations with people. It was at this time that I realized the importance of what I now call “business courage.” It’s easier to take on the “fixer” role and/or not say anything to someone who isn’t performing to expectation. It was harder and takes more courage to tell someone they aren’t meeting expectations and need to improve their performance.
As soon as I realized this and started to master the principles around conflict, it made a big difference in my career and gave me more peace in my life.
Are women better or worse than men at dealing with conflict?
I think this is has to do with upbringing and everyone has different childhood experiences. Some are brought up around healthy conflict and others aren’t. In general, many girls are told to “be nice,” helpful, to “not rock the boat”—and that it’s important to be liked and likable. This isn’t necessarily the same for most boys.
In the end, it’s a genderless issue because no one is naturally good at conflict. It’s a skill we learn over time—truly on-the-job-training.
As a Christian, what should your first steps be when faced with a conflict?
First, pray! If there is a difficult work conversation in your future or family tempers are flaring – whatever it is, prayer is the first step. Ask the Lord to direct your words, your thoughts, and your actions, and to remind you of His greatest commandment to love that other person (or people) as yourself.
Paul wrote to Timothy about sharing the good news: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” We use these same attributes in conflict situations: pray for boldness (not timidity), for power over your emotions and the situation, for self-discipline through the conversation and in the end, great love for those with whom you’re in conflict.
Second, plan! When dealing with a conflict situation, I hear many people say, “I just go with my gut.” That’s a recipe for disaster. After praying, I would encourage anyone to sit and plan for five minutes. You’d be surprised how long five minutes is and how valuable it is. Think about how you want the conversation to flow, what words you want to use, and what outcome you hope for. Those five minutes will make a HUGE difference in the end result.
If you’re suddenly tossed into a conflict, what are some things you should train yourself to do to ensure a good outcome?
- Prayer – even a fast one: “Lord, help me deal with this well and in Your power.”
- A calm, confident voice – raising our voice just makes others do the same. Keeping a calm low voice no matter how worked up others get is key to a good outcome.
- Listen – truly listen to the other person’s concerns. You may hear something new that changes the conflict situation.
- Avoid fighting words – If you say “I hear you have a problem with XYZ. What’s going on?” versus “I think we’re experiencing an issue with XYZ. Tell me more.” – which will calm and which will agitate?
- Humor – don’t underestimate what it can do when well-placed. Humor is attractive – it endears us to people, it is calming and can change an entire interaction.
In the end, if you handled a conflict situation well and the other person doesn’t like the outcome, it’s OK if they don’t “like you.”
Anything else you’d like to share?
You can avoid a lot of conflict – or make unavoidable conflict easier – by clearly setting expectations from the beginning. I used to wait too long to have candid conversations or confront people about their lack of performance. In my head, it was going to be a REALLY big difficult deal. Why? Because I hadn’t told the person what I expected up front – and now I needed to tell them they weren’t performing well.
In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Here’s a real-life example:
Scenario 1: You hire someone and eight months later, realize they aren’t a good fit, aren’t performing well, and you have to let them go. That is not going to be a fun conversation.
Scenario 2: You hire someone and review your expectations. You tell them that you’ll review their performance against expectations in 90 days. In this situation, you have a plan that’s been shared with the other person, so the conversation is much easier – and expected.
As Christians, we’re called to be kind. It is kind to be clear about expectations and have candid conversations with people who aren’t cutting it.
Finally, remember that everything we do is a witness for Christ. If we handle conflict well – with professionalism, humor, confidence, self-discipline, grace and love – it’s an honor to the Lord.
After 27 years in the retail industry, Heidi Rasmussen took on a new challenge. From corporate life to entrepreneurship. From fashion retail to the employee benefits industry.
At 15 years old, Heidi started at JCPenney where she went from a sales floor associate to Divisional Vice President at the corporate office. As a manager, she was promoted 14 times, received multiple awards and led the largest brand launch in JCPenney history.
As co-founder and COO of freshbenies, she developed the brand from zero to one of the Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in America for four consecutive years.