Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur


How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Steps to Manage Conflict

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

There is no doubt, managing conflicts is a challenging task. On my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my share of conflicts. I think working in close proximity and under much pressure, tends to raise conflicts more frequently in entrepreneurial ventures. It is hence important to know how to handle them more effectively. Losing a team mate, a client or a supplier can spell the end for a young startup. Listed below are five steps to help manage conflicts in a systematic and structured manner, and thus reach a fair and faster consensus.

1. Facts: Before anything is discussed or negotiated, it is important that all relevant details are documented. This includes finding core reasons behind the conflict, the stage the conflict is at, and the affected parties. It is important to be objective when documenting these factors, and ensure that each one of the affected individuals is part of the process. To read more about the fact finding process please click here

2. Ground Rules: Developing a set of rules and structure can greatly facilitate conflict resolution. It is important to let all the participants know what is expected of them. It also helps to formalize the actual negotiation process with a set agenda, and a mediator if possible. Setting up such a structure helps the negotiation process run smoothly, with each participant well aware, before hand, about the discussion agenda. To read more about setting appropriate ground rules please click here.

3. Negotiations: The actual negotiation stage brings all the concerned parties together, to discuss their points of view in a structured manner. It is important to insist that each participant keep their mind open to different options, even if they do not agree with them. Keeping a close mind and remaining stubborn makes the process more challenging to manage. During this stage, notes need to be taken down regarding options discussed and differences and concerns that were voiced. To read more about the negotiation stage please click here.

4. Evaluation: After the negotiation stage, all the participants are called back at a later date to discuss the options discussed during the negotiation stage. At this time, it is important to establish a set of objective criterions, to ensure the options discussed are feasible, fair and take into account the larger picture. There are several strategies which can be used at this stage to rank or combine options, and to come up with a mutually agreeable option. To read more about the evaluation stage please click here.

5. Closure: The final stage of a conflict management process involves bringing closure to the argument. This is done by  formalizing whatever was discussed and decided into a written document, which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities and roles. It is important that a commitment is made to follow through on what was decided. Periodic meetings can be established to ensure that everything is moving as planned, with suggestions and feedback provided along the way. To read more about closure please click here.

I have followed this system in conflicts I have been involved in. However, given the variances in every conflict, one needs to improvise along the way. Managing conflicts is a challenging task, especially when they have been brewing under the surface for long periods of time. Reaching a formal agreement acceptable to all the concerned individuals is a major feat. It requires patience, an open mind and the willingness to be flexible. It is much easier to be stubborn and refuse to change a position, rather than be adaptable and sacrifice for a more congenial and brighter future. 

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“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their configurations which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” Carl Gustav Jung

Closure is one of the most critical components of successful conflict resolution. Without it, there is always something unfinshed hanging in the air and this makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of us have been involved in conflicts which have ended without the required closure. It is not a pleasant situation, and if you then have to continue working with the persons concerned, it can be most awkward. To avoid such situations and reach closure, there are a few things I work on ensuring. 

1. Written Plan: Ensure that everything that has been discussed and decided upon, is written down in a formal document. This document should outline levels of future responsibility, possible compensation agreements, changed working arrangements or any other directives that are to be carried out. Putting it all down on paper makes it tangible, and easy to take ownership of.

2. Commitment: It is important that once a mutually agreeable option has been accepted, tasks and roles allocated, everyone commits to whatever they were assigned. A personal commitment is as important as having faith in the abilities of others to carry out their parts. This is not a time to doubt the follow through abilities of others. At this time more than ever, it is necessary to begin and rebuild the trust which may have been lost in the process.

3. Periodic Checks: A system to routinely check the progress of what was decided and agreed upon is vital, to ensure everyone is keeping their end of the deal. Such checks help monitor team progress and provide valuable insight into the team or individuals working dynamics. Such meetings can be a sounding board for suggestions, complaints or feedback. 

Closure after a long drawn out conflict is a liberating and empowering feeling, and helps us face challenges with ease and confidence. It reminds us, that survival in this world, requires us to learn to be flexible and move forward. Being stubborn and refusing to see different sides of a conflict, renders us incapable of moving forward. 

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Evaluating Options

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follet

Once the negotiation stage has been cleared, all options presented and discussed need to be evaluated. During this stage, respective parties need to set their differences aside, and work towards reaching a consensus where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This is by far one of the most challenging stages in the conflict management process. Much of the time such situations conclude in deadlocks, because one party may not be open to entertaining any option other than one which benefits them. Conflict resolution needs a certain level of sacrifice from each party to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Some steps which can help reach a mutually beneficial agreement are:

1. Developing Criterions: Prior to starting this phase it is important to establish some base criterions. These include ensuring that all options discussed are feasible and fair. It is also equally important to identify a set of objective criterions which help each of the participants look at the larger picture. This helps set a tone which in turn helps the flow of the discussion and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, faster. 

2. Ranking: To begin the process, rank the options discussed in the negotiation stage. This will help the participants decide jointly which options address the needs of the group and their own needs. This is a tricky exercise, as each participant would like to rank the options which benefit them the most, on top. To resolve this issue, each option should be graded against a set of objective criterions which are mutually agreed upon. This helps bring objectivity and fairness into the process.

3. Combining of Options: I have found that it is often possible to combine certain options, thereby creating a mutually acceptable option to both parties. Through this method we can bridge differences in opinions, which may limit parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. This takes some creativity,  at the same time, helps to think out of the box when resolving conflict. 

There needs to be much give and take at this stage. Sacrifices need to be made, at the same time it is important to remain objective and work towards a mutually beneficial agreement. During this stage one needs to be creative and think out of the box. A deadlock must be avoided at all costs, if a party becomes stubborn and refuses to change positions, we need to factor this dynamic in, and find alternatives which may be acceptable to them. 


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Tackling the Issue

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point — a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.” Thomas Crum

Proceeding with actual negotiations after laying down a comprehensive foundation for determining the facts and establishing ground rules, makes the exercise easier. With a set agenda, each party is fully aware of what will be discussed. The negotiation stage is a a critical one in conflict resolution. Without each party making the effort to bring the issue to the table, and discuss it candidly, very little progress is possible. Once the concerned individuals have made the effort to come together, and discuss the issue at hand, it is important to keep the discussion moving in a focused and objective matter. 

Key points to be kept in mind at the negotiation stage are:

1. Remaining Open: It is quite natural to close one’s mind to the other person’s point of view in a conflict. If such a stance is taken however, to reach a mutually agreeable decision will be a difficult and long process. Therefore, it is essential in such a situation, to not just remain open to the other party’s point of view, but the larger picture as well. 

2. Developing of Options: When a conflict is being negotiated, it is important that each side offers possible options to resolve the matter at hand.  I have been involved in conflict resolution, where the discussion revolves only around options which are not acceptable to either side. Therefore, being creative in the development of options is vital, as is abstaining from judging or criticizing them.

3. Notes: In the heat of discussions, we tend to lose track of what was said. This only complicates matter further. During the negotiation stage, it is hence vital, that notes about major agreements, disagreements, options and any other important piece of information are taken down, this will help in resolving the matter at hand.

These pointers are cornerstones to keep negotiations open and healthy. They may be very simple steps, but they have been extremely helpful to me when I have been involved in negotiating conflicts. In the end, it comes down to keeping things simple and straightforward. It is only when we complicate issues, with more details or people, do they become more of a challenge to resolve.

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Setting the Stage

“Instead of suppressing conflicts, specific channels could be created to make this conflict explicit, and specific methods could be set up by which the conflict is resolved.” Albert Low

Most times there is no formal process on how a conflict is supposed to be resolved. Although setting up stringent structures can be stifling in an organization, it can streamline processes and make them more efficient. My thinking has shifted over time, from a loosely managed structure to a more defined one. The reason for this fundamental shift is due to the fact that entrepreneurial teams often consist of very strong personalities. When individuals or groups with strong personalities entangle in a conflict, one can expect a fair share of fireworks. Tackling this with set structures in place, helps facilitate such situations, as also controlling the external impact of such conflicts. 

Listed below are a couple of primer steps to help set the stage before the actual negotiations begin:

1. Ground Rules: It is important to set strict guidelines, to keep the negotiation stage as civil as possible. T Controls on language, tone of voice and relevance to the discussions are essential. Usually, if uncontrolled, irrelevant examples are brought into arguments, making conflict resolving more challenging. Keeping strict focus on the issue at hand in a healthy environment is vital.

2. Agenda: Before affected individuals or groups are called in for negotiations, an agenda needs to be developed to ensure that all the key issues will be discussed. Through this, both individuals can be given adequate time to share their points of views. By formalizing the structure of negotiations, they become more effective and relevant to the issue at hand.

3. Organization: Adequate notice needs to be given to the concerned individuals about the time and venue of the negotiations. The location must be set in a neutral space, where neither side will feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. This is an important step to ensure a smooth and natural flow in the discussions. At the negotiations, minutes or notes must be taken of all discussions and possible conclusions.

4. Mediator: If the issue at hand has escalated to a higher intensity level, it may be necessary to bring in a mediator or facilitator for the negotiations. This will provide unbiased mediation to help keep the negotiations on track and provide objective analysis. Both individuals must agree on the negotiator  to ensure a comfort level.

By following the above steps, expectations may be set prior to the negotiations. The affected parties will have a clearer idea of what will be discussed and how the negotiations will be facilitated and managed on the day itself. It makes the entire negotiation process more efficient and transparent, which in turn can help resolve the conflict as soon as possible.


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Friends and Business

“A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” Anonymous

I firmly believe that partnering is one of the most effective ways of scaling your business. It is natural therefore to look within your network of friends/family and acquaintances to find potential partners. This is a strategy I have used, and even though a lot of people think that mixing friends/family and business is a bad idea, my experience has proved otherwise . Over the last couple of businesses I have been involved in, I have found that setting clear ground rules before starting a venture has been integral to their success.

One of the mistakes a lot of businesses are beset with when starting out with friends/family stem from there being so much left unsaid at the start. This is due to the fact that a mutual understanding is ‘thought’ to exist. The fact of the matter is, that unfortunately when money enters the picture a lot of these ‘understandings’ fall by the way side. Everyone wants to make money and start a successful business. The truth of the matter is that registering a business and starting one with no set plan is easy, making your business a success requires diligence, perseverance and structure.

Over the course of this week I will share with you certain ground rules to set when starting a venture or partnership. These rules have helped me tremendously in tempering expectations, getting ground realities realized and fostering an environment which promotes candour and honesty.

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8 characteristics of ideal business partners

“When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends.” Japanese Proverb

After you have made a concentrated effort to understand as to who you are, you are now ready to go out there and start looking for the right individuals to partner with. This is a critical stage which will have a substantial impact on achieving your goals. Over the years I have either started or joined many business teams. There is a mental checklist which I run through when meeting my prospective team mates for the first time. This check list is made up from my own past experiences and also Jim Collins view on who “The Right People” (courtesy are.

1. The person must share the core values of the business or organization. These are the values which determine how the organization interacts, communicates and operates to reach it goals and objectives. For example there was a charity project for protecting the environment I was part of during my university days. There was a sales and marketing director who didn’t share the fundamental core value of compassion. He was in fact looking to profit from the project. Needless to say he didn’t last very long in the team. This just goes to show how important it is for you to probe and ask whether your prospective team mates core values are aligned to ensure that you are all on the same page and headed for the same goal.

2. The person should not need to be “managed”. When building your core team you need to find those individuals who are confident in their own abilities. If you are the more experienced partner then most definitely you will provide some guidance along the way. However if you are find yourself molding the individual into what you deem are the right behaviors then you have probably made a mistake during selection. These types of individuals who require constant support are draining and slowly become huge speed bumps for the organization. Make sure you select those individuals who have shown a capacity to operate on their own and have been successful at doing so.

3. The passion to become the best at what they do. There was a IT company which I was a part of a couple of years ago which was developing inventory management systems for the paper industry. Being a startup company we were naturally bootstrapping and couldn’t hire the best developers. However when filling a key role for project management lead for the team we selected an individual who had shown great potential during his university days and had great passion for his line of work. It worked out really well and the team flourished. So when you are making a key decision and may be limited by budget or geographic boundaries do your best to fill the seat with the person who has show the potential and willingness to be one of the best in that field.

4. Understand the difference between a job and holding a responsibility. This tip has helped me greatly in making some key decisions in recruiting partners. Say you are going to be hiring a developer for a new website to collect feedback for your product. You get the best coder in town to make it for you. He does what you asked for but users are frustrated because the website is difficult to navigate through or impossible to submit feedback easily. I know I have been in this spot many times. This is when you got someone who doesn’t know the difference. A coder who takes responsibility to make sure that users will be able to submit their feedback easily and quickly would have approached the project differently. So make sure when you are getting a partner who understands the bigger picture and is in line with it.

5. Would you hire the person if it were a hiring decision? This question allows you to look at the person from a different angle. Given that you know a substantial amount of the person would you hire him/her? When I get to meet people outside the workplace say at my squash game or at a charity that I volunteer at, you get to know a lot about the individual. When I ask myself this question when thinking about asking him/her to become a partner with me in a project it puts things into perspective. You begin to look at the individual impartially and can reach a more informed decision.

6. Does the person have a regard for rules, regulations and personal boundaries? I have learned this lesson the hard way as well. I came across what you call a super star performer. He excelled at a lot of the businesses he had been at. So if it were a hiring decision it would have been an easy one. However after working with him for a while I realized he had the sense that he was above any level of authority and did things which were ethically questionable when securing contracts and sales. We started to get complaints about his attitude from staff and customers and had to part ways. So when you meet a person make sure you get a sense of what his point of view regarding regulations and boundaries are even though everything else may look to be in place.

7. Professes a commitment to goals. When you are going into business you are looking for people who share similar levels of commitment as you do to the project. If you don’t pay attention to this aspect you will find yourself in an imbalanced partnership which could result in permanently jeopardizing your project. When evaluating prospective partners look at their past history and whether they were committed to the last projects they were on. Ask them about some of the big decisions they have had to make. Lastly if you are planning to take him/her on as a partner make them commit to particular goals and objectives and use them as benchmarks when performance will be appraised.

8. Integrity. This is probably the most critical yet most elusive quality to immediately identify. A person who has a high level of integrity will be one which will you can rely on and grow a successful business with. To be a good of judge of this characteristic however will take time and experience. I take Jack Welch’s advice here that if your “gut” feeling about someone is bad or you don’t get the correct vibes then it is best to go with that first presumption unless you are shown to believe otherwise.

By running through this checklist I have been able to select business partners with a lot more subjectivity. I hope this list helps out anyone who is looking to start up a new project. At the same time if you or anyone else has any key characteristics that they would like to share please do so in the comment section.

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