Fixing When Someone Screws Up and Some Basic Conflict Resolution Tips

I screwed up recently as a publisher.  Unintentionally, but I did.

It’s resolved now, and I learned quite a few things.  Some of the very publishing-specific things I’ll share later on here… but in the process of fixing my screwup I learned (and was reminded of) some things about the process that work well for me.

  • Recognize that you could be wrong.   Pretty straightforward.
  • Recognize that while you are not agreeing, that it is conflict.  And conflict is not inherently badIt isn’t the conflict that is good or bad, it’s how you resolve the disagreement.
  • Presume that the other party is acting in good faith, and that the disagreement lies from bad assumptions.  Maybe the assumption is about priorities (“I thought we were getting together every morning”) or definitions (“I thought exclusive print meant I could sell the audio rights”) or situations (“Oh, I didn’t realize that you had to take your lunch period in a specific room so you couldn’t call me”).
  • If you’re communicating over text (e-mail, letters) and things are escalating, put it aside until you can communicate by voice, Skype, or in person.  Seriously.  Put it aside, schedule a time to talk on the phone, in person, via Skype, or whatever.
  • State what you thought you heard, not what you think they’re thinking.  If you must guess as to what the other person is thinking, be clear that you are imagining that and are eager to be corrected.
  • Ask what they meant.  This and the one above it go together, for obvious reasons.
  • State what you want, clearly and unambigously.  For example, “Soooo, I didn’t see anything about author copies….” isn’t good.  “I would like to see something about each author getting an author copy” is great. 
  • Whenever possible, state why you have a need. Maybe the why (and the real need) is able to be met in a way different than what you first envisioned.  Further, it helps defuse tension – if you know why someone is acting the way they are, it makes the conflict less conflict-y.
  • Aim for meeting each other’s needs via compromise whenever possible.  Once you clarify what each person really means and is asking for (see below), you can try to meet the real need instead of what gets said.

Yes, these presume that all parties are acting in good faith. 
That said, speaking clearly tends to smoke out those using weasel words
to hide their real intentions.  If one party is acting in bad faith, it’s difficult to pull these off clearly.

And finally, know where your boundaries are.   There will be a point where you simply cannot continue without violating your own boundaries.  Know where they are ahead of time so that you can withdraw without drama.

What do you think?  I would love to hear your suggestions – and if you have ways to tweak (or clarify) mine above, all the better!

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