6 Strategies to Manage Conflict and Improve Working Relationships


Conflict among people is a tale as old as time. Much like any other business collective, automotive retailers can become gossip factories or feel like a battle ground where arguments and negative encounters between employees or with customers turns the dealership into an unhealthy environment.

While dealership employees should respect the authority of their managers and leadership, those leaders must continue to set a good example by being fair and firm in handling difficulties so as to earn the respect their title implies. Quality leaders aren’t always well liked, but running a successful dealership is not a popularity contest – it requires making unpopular choices for the betterment of the company.

Take action to improve how your management team addresses workplace discord with these 6 strategies to manage conflict. Conflict is unavoidable and will range from a minor difference of opinion to a large scale communication breakdown. Often it stems from a feeling of lack or vulnerability on one’s part, and will have varying levels of importance to the offended, depending on their personality type. Introverts may internalize an issue or seem despondent when in a group, causing a clash in personalities with the extrovert who seems overbearing or pushy. Keep calm and read on to find solutions to some of these everyday encounters. 

Strategies to Strengthen Relationships 

At the heart of any conflict is a relationship that isn’t working well at that moment. When faced with a commotion or disagreement, try to diffuse the situation by keeping your emotions in check. Then implement one or more of these 6 strategies by actively listening to the person or persons to identify the root of the problem and carefully consider what’s at stake for you, the individual(s) and the company. 

  1. Don’t make it Personal 

Always focus on the problem and not the people experiencing the difficulty. No one likes name calling or being belittled, especially if they feel they are in the right. Listen to their side of the story and ask probing questions to determine (and help them more clearly see) the reason behind the conflict. Then you can address it, one symptom at a time, and resolve the matter with everyone feeling heard and respected.

conflictWhen it’s a staff member you’re addressing, it’s important to refrain from bringing up past or other irrelevant problems, as this can cause more discord in that particular moment. Address the issue at hand unless the conflict stems from an employee’s recurring behavior (i.e. consistently late, ignores safety protocol when moving units, etc.). Then use one or two examples to illustrate how this pattern is the issue and together discuss methods of improvement. Always strive to diffuse the situation when addressing an upset customer and when dealing with customer complaints or conflicts. Empathize with them, so they feel heard, respected and cared for as this can help them lower their own defenses without feeling forced to do so. Try to reassure them you will do what you can to make it right, or to prevent such occurrences from happening again.  

  1. Power to the People 

As a leader of your dealership, inevitably you will arbitrate the internal conflict between two employees with different work and communication styles. An effective way to manage these subordinate conflicts is by empowering them. Give them the ability to resolve the matter themselves, especially when the matter is trivial, stems from a simple misunderstanding or is easily addressed.

Have each team member take turns explaining in their own words what their counterpart said about the issue to show they understand it from the other’s point of view. The first person tells their side or airs their grievances without interruption. Once complete, the second person restates this to show they heard it and understood the issue. Each can then rebut or respond in turn where each person has to demonstrate an understanding of the other’s position so they can come to an agreement and work out their differences. If one of them can not show they understand the first person’s view, then they can not continue to complain and must accept management’s decision on what to do next, then move on.  

  1. Share Responsibility 

Some conflicts aren’t clearly right versus wrong, so it’s especially important to avoid taking an “us vs them” or an “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. As a manager or leader you must demonstrate restraint and share responsibility for the conflict so both parties may solve or address it constructively.

Accomplish this by using your support system, be it other managers or leadership staff members that can lend impartial perspective. This way, calm heads remain in play so you and your employee can discuss the matter without placing blame or having them feel subjacent because of your title. Conflict management can be constructive and should be handled as such because everyone has room to grow and learn from others. 

  1. Strength from Vulnerability 

Learning from others is at the heart of the fourth strategy – being vulnerable to your show strength. No one knows all there is to know, and an effective manager understands this and uses it to lead by example. When there’s an internal conflict with a team member, solve it by sharing a personal story to disarm them.

Being vulnerable is natural, and sharing this shows that you too are human, have made mistakes, but learned and grew from them. It’s important for subordinates to know they’re not alone in making mistakes and in dealing with conflicts. Letting others see you grow beyond your weaknesses builds their trust and confidence in you and in themselves. 

  1. Statements of Goodwill 

Another strategy for managing conflict focuses on relationship building and is especially keen with the younger class of employees –  think millennials. When conflicts arise, keep in mind the importance of the relationship and empathize before passing judgement or taking action. Then praise them for what they mean to you and the organization, before stating your concern for their behavior.

The goal of a goodwill statement is to reinforce their importance (be truthful, don’t over inflate), to temper anger and minimize ill will. Everyone wants to be liked by and feel important to the people they work with. Even more so when it involves their managers and leaders. Highlight the good about having them as an employee with a statement like, “I like working with you,” before addressing the topic that caused the conflict, “so it’s disappointing when you forget to follow up with your delivery checklist.” This way they feel valued but also understand it’s important for them to change their behavior or improve in some way. 

  1. Agree to Disagree 

Of course, not all conflicts will have a clear victor or be resolved at that moment. Conflict is a part of life, and it’s unreasonable to expect everything to go smoothly all the time. Sometimes, parties have to agree to disagree.

When a conflict comes up that isn’t of the utmost importance, note the difference of opinion as such and agree to keep your own viewpoint. Some differences can not be overcome through discussion or mediation, and as such each person must simply agree to leave that matter alone and work around it. This is easy to see in political matters, where one side disagrees with the others point on taxes or health care, and each side must keep their tongue in check and move on to more important matters. Your dealership is no different. But be mindful that these issues aren’t allowed to fester and return later, bigger and more divisive than before. 

Key Takeaways 

Managing conflict is an important aspect of operating a successful dealership. Always avoiding any negative situation is foolish and ineffective, as many problems under rug swept will grow into a cancer that erodes your enterprise from within. Whether the conflict comes from a customer or coworker, remember to breathe, keep your cool and focus on building the relationship. Refrain from personal attacks, share ownership for creating solutions and help others resolve differences themselves. Let others know of their importance to you, so you can share your personal stories of growth as an example for them to emulate. And if it’s not important to completing the task at hand, agree to disagree and live with it. As Dr. Helen McGrath, a counseling psychologist and author notes in her book, Difficult Personalities, conflict is normal and not seeing eye to eye is ok because, “Differing views are not dangerous”.