Today’s letter o’ the day is C, and when I began writing today, my word was different, but in the post I started, I used the word “conflict” and recognized the inevitability and unavoidability of conflict in business, so I changed my letter “c” mid-stream. There’s all sorts of places you can find conflict in business, but I have only 45 minutes to write today, so let’s see how far I get.
Once upon a time, I worked at a haunted house attraction, where I was the owner’s right hand, cast manager, ran the customer service and social media–then later, marketing, set design and just about everything but lifting heavy wall panels or making things explode. I knew who was in charge, but I took ownership of MY areas, giving him freedom to do everything that he did best: building and creating. In truth, I made his work a breeze. Once we were in production, his main focus could be the ticket booth.
One night, a crew member lashed out at one of the actors in a way that was so hurtful the actor quit on the spot, igniting the protective, motherly instinct in me. I approached (that’s a nice way of staying stormed over to) the owner with likely more than a little angst; as a matter of fact, I think I insisted that this owner’s crew member should stay away from my actors forever.
That went over well. That night was a good learning experience for me for two reasons. One, I called them “my” actors, and to the business owner I might as well have said “This is my company and not yours.” Two, my anger may have given me a bit of attitude that I projected onto him as I rushed over in a flurry of blond, angst-y irritation.
In other words, I forgot myself.
Conflict. There it was, and he stepped right up to the pissy plate and hit one hell of a homerun. He told me never to try and tell him what to do again. He lashed back with as much irritation (and fury) as that with which I had approached him. I immediately realized what I’d done, so stood there taking his tirade while his eyes burned into me like fiery coals, stoked hotter with each word he was leveling at me.
The truth was that I deserved it; I’d caused it with my approach and tone, and he’d taken the bait and lashed right back. But let me tell you how it ended and why I use this story as my example of how to behave as a business owner.
Only about 30 minutes later, I was standing alone in the costume room when the owner, who never had a reason to come backstage, walked inside with softer (less flame-y) eyes and a changed demeanor. I turned my surprised face to him, and he said, “I’m sorry. I should never have spoken to you like that.”
My jaw may have dropped but I quickly apologized back, saying it was my fault. But he wouldn’t hear of it. “No, I shouldn’t have said all that. I will take care of it with the actors and [the crew member].” The conversation didn’t last long, and poof! He was gone again, but not before I saw and felt the sincerity in his apology and learned about leadership.
From the moment on, he became my example of what an owner does. We will all make mistakes, lash out, say or do things we regret. But a leader handles conflicts himself–like a parent with a child–and seeks to understand and teach rather than to punish without explanation.
And we apologize when we need to.
The point is that no business is without conflict. The conflict is inevitable, but how we deal with it will be what determines our success with partners, crew members, employees, and customers.
And that man? A few years later, we became business partners and created the best haunted attraction in the central valley of California… and we never had conflict again.