Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton understands high-stakes battles and how to resolve the toughest conflicts. It's her job. You see, Debra is a litigator-turned-mediator and conflict coach for people in dispute over their most prized possession--their pets. When the love is lost in a human relationship the unconditional love for an animal continues (or grows in leaps and bounds). The pet may be the last best thing a couple had together (or alternatively, the decision to get the pet or how to raise it is what drove them apart). This is why people get so crazy--not over who gets the apartment or the china or the landscape painting above the sofa--but over who gets primary custody of the beloved animal. The stakes are high for resolving these emotional conflicts. If the matter is not resolved privately, and ends up in court, sole ownership not shared custody is the norm. In once instance Debra had clients living on opposite coasts who had resorted to stealing the beloved dog from one another for 3 years. Three years of a bicoastal dog battle before they sought assistance in resolving the conflict. A year and half of mediation later, the dog is now safely traveling between the couple--and in another conflict resolution milestone, the couple can discuss issues regarding the dog without Debra needing to be present.
According to Debra, mediation enables the disputing parties to focus on what is important and to drop the battle-tested mindset of having to be right or needing to punish the other party. For any pet owner, it's the continued attachment with the pet that is of prime importance (together with a civil relationship in regards to the on-going care, health and well-being of the pet with the former spouse/partner).
To help business owners and founders who are slogging away trying to resolve an ongoing business dispute, or find themselves continually at odds with a co-founder who adheres to the righteousness of their viewpoint, Debra offers these tips that have proven successful in working out mutually satisfactory solutions, in the toughest of situations:
Conflict is like being set on fire so Stop, Drop and Roll.
Stop talking and just listen (which doesn't mean you've given in or given up, you're simply listening instead of attacking or retaliating). Besides Debra notes, it is difficult to fight with someone who isn't fighting back. By stopping and listening, you begin to hear what the real issues are.
The next step is to Drop: that is, drop your need to always be right. The emotional need to be right all the time simply fuels the conflict. You may be able to find common ground if you decide not to be right right now. Drop it.
Finally just let harsh comments and negativity Roll. Understand that the other person's hurtful comments are a reflection of their feelings, not a negotiation point that needs to be countered. The Roll gives you the opportunity to hear people out without engaging in immediate defensiveness and it provides them with the opportunity to come back and apologize because you didn't add fuel to the fire.
The next technique Debra recommends is AKA: Address, Keep Relationships and Appreciate.
Address sounds obvious and it is. Address the problem early, don't ignore it or it will fester and turn into a bigger, messier, more expensive problem. To address a conflict means you are willing to come out of your corner to find a win-win situation for everyone. Next, Keeping relationships has to be the ultimate goal or every business dispute you find yourself in will be a challenging if not outright difficult one. Even if you know you will never speak to the other party again, aim for civility. Finally Appreciate, which does not mean agree or capitulate. Appreciate means you have the emotional ability to grasp how the other person feels. Appreciate means acknowledge their point of view, nothing more (i.e. stop before you open your mouth and add new fuel to the fire). Resist the temptation or need to explain why you feel differently or how stupid you feel their position might be (even if it is).
By adopting these techniques, you may just resolve your next business dispute amicably or at the very least, at a lower (emotional) cost.