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A Look Inside the Conflict Resolution Toolbox

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

by Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton

In the blink of an eye, small conflicts with clients and staff can escalate into big conflicts that may threaten the reputation or very existence of any type of business and, no matter how many funny kittens and happy puppies may abound, pet care services are no exception. Having pre-planned conflict resolution strategies – a Conflict Resolution Toolbox (CRT) – at the ready can help protect your business and your investment.  In the world of pet care services, a client’s investment is both financial and emotional. CRT strategies enable business owners to be sensitive to conflicts as they arise and proactively seek early solutions before they grow larger.

Do you really need a CRT?

As reported by Entrepreneur in “The Real Cost of Workplace Conflict”, a 2008 study revealed that “U.S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days.” Notably, this study only measured the loss in employee work hours and pay.  When assessing whether or not a CRT would be beneficial to your business, in the highly competitive pet care services industry, consider the additional impact of losing clients.

Creating your CRT before you engage in a difficult conversation with a staff member, client, or less than positive online review, is a tremendous asset.  It provides your team notice of the strategies you want used when conflicts arise. The “tools” you put in your CRT include specific language to use and positions to take. Your CRT provides direction and insight into the manner of addressing conflict, where you would like to end up after a disagreement surfaces, and how you suggest getting there. Ultimately, it will help both owner and staff to address large and small conflicts quickly and peacefully, keeping your team and your clients happy while establishing a more efficient work environment.

The tools in your CRT

Missing or ignoring potential conflict is easy for the busy pet care services provider. Giving top-notch client care is your primary focus, but providing service in a way that works for you may not always be helpful and may even seem abrupt to your colleagues, staff, or clients. These tools allow you to address issues quickly, understand how others feel, and help everyone focus on seeking resolution, not perpetuating conflict.

Using the right language for proactively addressing problems

What will you say, what words will you use, to de-escalate conflict? The time you take and words you choose are key to a positive outcome. Addressing conflicts, rather than avoiding or ignoring them, permits you to consciously acknowledge how important each party’s opinion is in the conversation.

Being patient and reasonable but recognizing not all relationships can be saved

Maintaining a relationship is certainly typically preferred to losing it. Being patient, reasonable, and embracing a commitment to finding a mutually satisfactory ending allows resolutions to flow. But colleagues, clients, and staff leave businesses. It happens. Ending those relationships by sending them away happy is the hoped for outcome and leaves a smaller likelihood of retaliation such as a negative online review or angry, potentially viral, post on social media.  When it’s time for relationships to end, your mission is to have them do so with the other party leaving satisfied that they have been heard and understood.

Ultimately, whether relationships should be saved or ended for the best possible outcome, acting with appreciation and identifying common goals repeatedly leads to a positive endpoint.

Having a neutral mediator in place to help facilitate a peaceful conversation

If you’ve ever been involved in a legal dispute, you may be familiar with mediation. That is, using a neutral, third party to help resolve the conflict. A situation does not need to have escalated to a lawsuit to bring in a mediator or neutral facilitator. This neutral third party helps peacefully address misunderstandings, foster and support civility, and bring all sides to understand and achieve common objectives.

Helpful CRT “add-ons”

You cannot fix what you don’t know or see. Making room in your toolbox for these additional processes and procedures enable you to identify, uncover, or be advised of issues arising in your business.

Suggestion box

Put up a suggestion box easily accessible to staff and clients. Be sure to read it regularly and take the criticisms that may come your way as a helpful extra set of eyes and ears.

Email follow-up

Email follow-up gives you the opportunity to send a short and easy thank you and elicit helpful feedback. Suggested questions include: Did the boarding/pet sitting staff meet your needs? Did the front desk/registration staff?  Use a 1-5 scale.  Ask “what did we get right/wrong?” Free to inexpensive sites like SurveyMonkey make the asking process even easier. You will receive honest evaluations with valuable feedback that you can use at your next office collaboration meeting.

Follow-up phone call

A phone chat is an invaluable tool to find out how you’re doing. It should be done by someone comfortable with visiting about the pet and family. This is an opportunity to touch a client with information or to check in and reassure them you are thinking about their pet.

Make your CRT a priority

Having abstract or ambiguous ideas on how to address a conflict leads to diminished motivation to face a problem and an unconscious desire to continue “my way or the highway” conduct. Neither of these reactions or inactions supports finding an effective, long-lasting solution. Clearly defining your ideal conflict resolution tools will help positively guide your actions, the actions of your staff, and difficult conversations from the very beginning. Using the tools in your Conflict Resolution Toolbox will help ensure a successful solution process that does not get lost in the heat of conflict.

Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton is the principal of Hamilton Law and Mediation, (HLM). As an attorney/mediator who works with people and service providers who become involved in conflicts over animals, she helps resolve disagreements, retain relationships, and reduce exposure to litigation. Debra presents programs all over the world teaching attorneys and people in the pet industry how to communicate without resorting to litigation. For more information, contact