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15 Conflict Resolution Strategies for New Entrepreneurs in Startups

— December 6, 2023

People do better when they know where they stand, and management levels ensure leaders are able to speak up and command when necessary. ~ Travis Hann, Partner, Pender & Howe

As new entrepreneurs navigate the challenging landscape of startup teams, conflict resolution becomes a key skill to master. Fifteen seasoned professionals, including founder-presidents and partners, share their top tips on this crucial topic. From combining four behavioral approaches to conflict to learning how to clarify roles and the communication chain, these insights offer a comprehensive guide to conflict resolution within startups for new entrepreneurs.

  • Combine Four Behavioral Approaches 
  • Focus on Clarity, Honesty, and Improvement Tools
  • Foster Open Communication
  • Conduct Weekly Open Discussions
  • Embrace Disagreements as Opportunities
  • Use Empathy, Compromise, and Mediation
  • Prioritize Active Listening and Regular Sessions
  • Find Agreement and Teach Resolution
  • Implement Reverse-Brainstorming Sessions
  • Consult a Neutral Third Party
  • Establish Clear Roles and Hierarchies
  • Create a Conflict Resolution Paper Trail
  • Utilize Behavioral Questionnaires
  • Promote Understanding of Diverse Views
  • Clarify Roles and the Communication Chain

Combine Four Behavioral Approaches

There are four basic ways to resolve conflict through behavior at any level:

1. Tell people what to do. You are the boss. This only works when time is of the essence and things have to be done a certain way. Limit your use of this; don’t be a dictator.

2. When the team is hesitant or reluctant, encourage them and convince them they can do the task at hand. Follow this with consistent, helpful feedback.

3. Before making a decision, brainstorm with the team to find possible solutions. Determine what all feel is the best, then you make the final decision for implementation.

4. Collaborate with the team where all have equal say, including you, and develop solutions to achieve the end result. The focus is on the solution, not the people.

Whenever there is conflict, identify the issue and the best outcome for all concerned, including the organization. Entrepreneurs have to remember success is a team effort. Find the best people and help them do the best work, removing obstacles to success.

Harriet Cohen, Founder-President, Training Solutions

Focus on Clarity, Honesty, and Improvement Tools

We want to make sure to be honest and respectful. It is up to you, as the leader, to approach conflict and come up with a resolution. You want to make sure that you have clear expectations, as well as being clear on when you are not satisfied with their work. This fosters a clear culture that is comfortable to work in as well. 

Approach the resolution of the conflict with clarity, respectful honesty, and tools to improve and learn.

Dielle Charon, Business Coach, Dielle Charon Coaching

Foster Open Communication

My go-to tip for new entrepreneurs is to encourage open communication. Get everyone involved in a room (virtual or physical, depending on the times), and hash it out together. Create a safe space where everyone can express their perspectives and concerns. Sometimes, conflicts arise from misunderstandings or differing perspectives, so bringing everyone to the table helps foster understanding and builds a stronger team dynamic. 

It’s amazing how much can be resolved through a simple, honest conversation. Plus, it builds a culture of collaboration and problem-solving, which is gold for any startup navigating the inevitable challenges on the road to success.

Johannes Larsson, Founder and CEO,

Conduct Weekly Open Discussions

When conflict arises in a start-up team, it’s often because of miscommunication and built-up stress. So, I’d encourage teams to set aside time every week to address any issue openly, ensuring everyone feels heard and understood. It’s about creating an environment where each team member can share their concerns without fear of judgment. 

In my experience, when people feel supported and understood, they’re more open to finding common ground, working hand-in-hand, and improving the team’s resilience for future challenges.

Bayu Prihandito, Certified Psychology Expert, Life Coach, Founder, Life Architekture

Embrace Disagreements as Opportunities

In my journey as a tech veteran, I’ve witnessed disagreements within startup teams more often than you’d imagine. A key lesson I’ve learned is that successful teams anticipate these differences, discuss them openly, and use them as opportunities for reflection.

Whenever I’ve faced a technical disagreement and felt outnumbered, I’ve made it a point to clearly voice my concerns and reasons. Then, I’d draft my solution, share it with the team, and invite their feedback. Sometimes, the team sees aspects I’ve missed. Even if I’m not convinced, I commit wholeheartedly to the team’s approach. There have been times when I’ve been proven wrong, and other times my initial solution came to the rescue.

Embrace disagreements as growth opportunities, and remember: unity in action, and diversity in thought.

Itay Malinski, Founder and CEO, AlohaDigital

Use Empathy, Compromise, and Mediation

Make an effort to understand your teammate’s perspective first, before just reacting. Look for compromises that serve the company’s goals rather than individual egos. Also, remind the team of your shared vision and values that brought you together. 

Taking a short break can be powerful too—stepping away prevents things from spiraling in the heat of the moment. If more extensive disputes require it, consider bringing in an objective mediator to help find constructive solutions, not to take sides. 

Above all, show empathy and care for teammates as humans, not just roles. Nurturing those personal bonds and trust will help you weather any stormy seas.

Lou Reverchuk, Co-Founder and CEO, EchoGlobal

Prioritize Active Listening and Regular Sessions

For new entrepreneurs, mastering the art of active listening is paramount in resolving conflicts within a startup team. This approach involves truly hearing what team members are saying, reflecting on their words, and responding thoughtfully. It’s not about who’s right or wrong; it’s about understanding diverse perspectives and finding common ground.

Implement regular “clear the air” sessions where team members can voice concerns in a controlled, respectful environment. This proactive communication can often prevent misunderstandings from escalating into larger issues. It demonstrates leadership’s commitment to a collaborative culture and provides a forum for issues to be addressed promptly and effectively. 

Remember, in the high-stress environment of a startup, ensuring that every voice is heard can be the key to maintaining a cohesive and motivated team.

Thomas Gallivan, New York Personal Injury Lawyer, Gallivan Law Firm

Find Agreement and Teach Resolution

Look for the areas of agreement. It can be very difficult for teammates to find common ground once their defenses have gone up in a conflict. When that happens, your management team (or you) may need to step in and mediate the situation. Find common ground before you try to resolve the conflict to help remind teammates that they aren’t as far away from each other’s solutions as they think, and to bring back a collaborative mindset. When we see how we’re the same, it becomes much easier to bridge the gaps between our differences. 

If you mediate every conflict, your team may be missing out on growing these resolution skills themselves. Teach your team to find the common ground and create a conflict-resolution structure they can use to settle things and find a compromise together.

Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr

Implement Reverse-Brainstorming Sessions

One unconventional yet effective tip I’ve adopted for resolving startup team conflicts is to implement a “reverse-brainstorming” session. Instead of immediately seeking solutions, we collectively explore how we could exacerbate the problem. 

This creative inversion often unlocks novel perspectives and, ironically, leads to innovative solutions. It lightens the mood, reduces defensiveness, and encourages a more open-minded approach to conflict resolution. It’s about tackling the issue from a different angle and turning conflict into a constructive pivot point for the team.

Diego Cardini, Founder, The Drum Ninja

Consult a Neutral Third Party

Happy couple. Man, woman, and therapist; image by Freepik, via
Happy couple. Man, woman, and therapist; image by Freepik, via

Suggest a neutral third party with whom you can consult. Before obtaining their advice, I advise you to agree on who should be consulted—perhaps an investor, an advisor, or a common buddy. Deciding on the objective data point you intend to study before discovering whose point of view will be backed lends validity and credence to that viewpoint.

Adam Crossling, Marketing and New Business Director, Zenzero

Establish Clear Roles and Hierarchies

When launching Pender & Howe, we failed to establish a clear office hierarchy.

This might have been done with the best of intentions. I know I personally envisioned an egalitarian workforce where no one answered to anyone else specifically. 

But it was a mistake all the same.

People do better when they know where they stand, and management levels ensure leaders are able to speak up and command when necessary.

To resolve interpersonal conflicts that quickly arose, we had to go back and establish layers of control—a process that would have been easier to start off with.

Once we accomplished this, people related to one another more confidently, and unnecessary confrontations faded.

Fellow startups should consider whether unclear roles might contribute to office conflict, and adjust their protocols similarly.

Travis Hann, Partner, Pender & Howe

Create a Conflict Resolution Paper Trail

Always make sure you’re creating a paper trail. As soon as you catch wind of the conflict, set down the issue in an email, or ensure the call regarding the issue is recorded for a transcript. The last thing you want is for the details to become murky, which diffuses blame and hampers any resolution. 

Being able to point to a document and keep track of the ongoing conversation helps resolve conflicts, plain and simple. Without a record, you lack a map toward resolution and are effectively lost. Don’t let your conflicts spiral out of control. Maintain an accurate paper trail that’s available to all involved and focused on creating a successful resolution.

Mark Varnas, Principal SQL Server DBA and Consultant, Red9

Utilize Behavioral Questionnaires

When managing conflict, new entrepreneurs should be utilizing behavioral questionnaires in talent development.

Certain people are just more conflict-prone than others, and everyone has their own preferred conflict management style. However, few are cognizant of their conflict orientation, and almost no one knows which conflict management strategies suit them best.

Entrepreneurs should, therefore, strongly consider using behavioral assessments, helping the team to better understand their personal approach. These identify development needs, overplayed strengths, and recommended strategies based on their personality, adding tremendous value.

Moreover, the structure and impartiality that these assessments provide make these conversations far more comfortable. Simply accusing an employee of being abrasive is likely to exacerbate conflict, but questionnaire results are more readily accepted, being considered more impartial and objective than top-down opinions.

Oliver Savill, CEO and Founder, AssessmentDay

Promote Understanding of Diverse Views

In most cases, conflicts arise in workplaces when one person can’t understand another’s point of view. They don’t even try, and stick to their own opinion. It clouds their thinking skills and boosts their arrogance. If one person doesn’t relent, the other person follows the same attitude. 

As a result, the conflict takes an ugly turn. New entrepreneurs should try to make them understand from the other’s point of view. They can call both people into an empty room. Then, they should ask one to remain silent while the other expresses their grievances. Entrepreneurs should check that they are describing their views calmly. If they get agitated, entrepreneurs can intervene. Once they listen with an open mind, they will resolve the conflict with ease.

Sally Johnson, CEO and Founder, Green Light Booking

Clarify Roles and the Communication Chain

Clarifying roles, responsibilities, and the chain of communication will do wonders for preventing and resolving conflicts. Startups tend to have a little less structure at first, and this can leave people feeling unclear about what is expected of them. 

This can create conflict with others on the team if they feel their toes are being stepped on or it’s unclear who makes decisions when there isn’t a traditional hierarchical structure in place. Sometimes, consensus can’t be reached and someone has to be the person to decide, so be clear from the start about who that falls upon.

Jonathan Feniak, General Counsel, LLC Attorney

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