Relationships are particularly important in the insurance industry. First, we’re a close-knit group. Especially within niche markets, you tend to keep running into the same folks. Additionally, we interact with our clients at some of the most difficult times of their lives. Doing so successfully requires laying some groundwork. One of the keys to building solid relationships is being able to identify tensions that can escalate into open conflict and deal with them in a positive, healthy manner.
There will always be differences of opinion and people we simply don’t enjoy being around as much as others. Four factors, however, frequently escalate these “normal frictions” to actual conflict.
- Self-interest – Someone consistently treats their needs and interests as being of greater value or significance than those of others.
- Overconfidence – Someone shows unshakable belief in their own abilities or the correctness of their position, even if confronted with evidence to the contrary.
- Escalation of commitment – Someone facing increasingly negative outcomes from a decision or action continues the behavior instead of altering their approach. This is a type of cognitive bias.
- Conflict avoidance – Someone refuses to acknowledge or respond to a potential or developing conflict in the hope that it will “go away” if ignored. This is often a recurring behavior pattern that leads to passive-aggressive behavior. Conflict-avoidant people often suppress their emotions until they overwhelm them.
The ability to recognize these behaviors in ourselves and others can help us defuse conflict before it gets out of hand.
When conflict does occur, try following these steps to address the situation in a mature and professional way:
- Clarify the sources of the problem. Don’t assume you know why someone is upset – or why you are. Give each person an opportunity to share their perception of the conflict and how it started/escalated. For the best results, do this in a calm, neutral environment.
- Go beyond the conflict to identify other barriers. Don’t automatically accept the “obvious” reason for the conflict. Work to uncover the deeper context.
- Establish a common goal. Identify what points are agreed upon by both parties. Ask what each participant’s desired resolution is, and then try to find a compromise that meets some of the expectations/needs of each person.
- Negotiate how that goal can be reached. Discuss what the individuals involved need to do – separately or together – to achieve the desired outcome.
- Develop and implement an agreement. The plan should incorporate input from all parties. If appropriate, impose a timeframe for implementation to limit conflict avoidance or unhealthy reflection on the situation.
- Follow up to ensure a successful resolution. Highlight the benefits of the agreed-upon solution. Acknowledge each person’s contribution to the resolution and any feelings they have about the process.
Hopefully, this process will enable you to build healthy relationships with colleagues and clients and perhaps create deeper bonds with friends and family. And for more suggestions on how to resolve interpersonal conflicts, check out this article.