Navigating Difficult Relationships: How Marketers Can Turn Conflict into Cooperation

All too often, in the world of marketing where success often hinges on the ability to build strong relationships with both internal clients and colleagues, there is always a handful of, let’s say, difficult personalities. Dealing with difficult internal clients and colleagues can be a major challenge, but the good news is that these relationships when navigated effectively, can become powerful assets in your career journey. In this article, I will explore strategies to transform such challenging dynamics into thriving partnerships that not only propel your growth but also contribute to a healthier work environment.

Embrace Challenges, Unlock Opportunities

Picture this: you find yourself in a situation where you’re standing in front of doors, literally standing in front of doors, while the person you are trying to elicit responses for a proposal due in 3 hours is ignoring you and carrying on a seemingly pointless call. The frustration in you builds and you decide to dig your feet in and stay even though they have waved you off to come back in a few minutes. You plant yourself firmly in the seat right in front of them and not so patiently wait as they drag out the call further and further. It might feel like stalking, but it’s a common scenario in the realm of marketing. And when they finally get off the phone and you have the opportunity to ask your questions, they, of course, have no answers to give you and you walk away frustrated, defeated, and so completely over working in the world of marketing that relies so heavily on others who only see you as a nagging voice.

This was me, many years ago as a proposal manager who was proud of my ability to churn out proposals at record pace while still being compliant and holding a decent win ratio. Working with dysfunctional teams or challenging individuals can be frustrating, but is part of the gig, right?

After working for way too many years in sales enablement, supporting seller-doers in the professional services landscape I realized it doesn’t have to be this way. Every challenge holds an opportunity for growth. These experiences are your training ground for mastering the art of effective communication and conflict resolution, you must believe in the value you bring to the table and learn how to position yourself to work through difficult situations while building trust, confidence, and respect for your partnership.

These experiences are your training ground for mastering the art of effective communication and conflict resolution, you must believe in the value you bring to the table and learn how to position yourself to work through difficult situations while building trust, confidence, and respect for your partnership.

I know it is more difficult than that. So, here are some strategies to arm yourself with when in the midst of conflict.

  • Don’t Ignore Conflict: Ignoring conflict won’t make it disappear. Acknowledge it and view it as an opportunity to improve the situation. Many times, simply stating out loud there is a conflict can bring someone around. Saying something like, “I see you have not had time to finish putting together your thoughts for this proposal draft, how can I help you so I can have the time I need to prepare it for the client?” Be careful though in how you phrase things because depending on your audience, this could prove to be a trigger for them. Emotional intelligence becomes key when dealing with conflict and it is important to understand who you are working with and their emotional triggers so you can approach each person in an effective manner.
  • Clarify the Issue: Before attempting to resolve a conflict, ensure that everyone involved understands the root cause. Clarity is key to finding a solution and enabling yourself to emphasize. In my situation above in time, it became clear that he was not just simply a procrastinator but was trying to work relationships at a sales angle, a task that was extremely uncomfortable for him and created stress that elevated his procrastination habits. This happens a lot in the world of sell-doers, where they may be amazing at “doing” the job but are not seasoned or skilled sellers. In this case, I was able to simply shift my method of information extraction to an informational interview format rather than leaving him to his own devices which left the door open for him to continue to push the task to the side.
  • ·Open Dialogue: Bringing all parties together for a transparent and open conversation can foster understanding and pave the way for resolution. This is something that can be tough to accomplish and requires you to have an open mind. Approaching everyone with an understanding tone rather than letting your frustrations and sometimes accusatory or passive-aggressive comments come out. You want everyone to feel safe in the exchange, enough to truly express what is really going on so you can move forward in a meaningful way. This can be hard if you are fired up, so take the time to know yourself and step away if you need to, to reset your mind and come at this with the propensity to take on the challenge and create a solution that will build trust and respect in those you are working with.
  • Identify Solutions: Collaboratively brainstorm possible solutions and be willing to compromise for the greater good. This is your opportunity to shine, come at the problem with empathy and understanding so you can suggest solutions that will work for everyone, not just for you. Having an outward mindset is critical to creating a solution that will work out, rather than one that just continues to get derailed and reignites frustrations.
  • Follow Up: Conflict resolution isn’t a one-time task. Follow up to ensure that the agreed-upon solutions are being implemented effectively and be flexible to adjust if needed. It is also good to come back after about 24 hours to touch base and have a candid conversation on how things went and how working with them moving forward should look like to avoid similar situations. At the end of the day building relationships takes effort and cannot be one-sided. You need to show up for this just as much as they do, regardless of who is in the wrong.

Building Rapport and Finding Common Ground

Building strong relationships starts with rapport. Even in challenging situations, finding common ground is crucial. It’s like laying the foundation for a house; without it, the structure won’t stand. Building trust is a cornerstone. Trust leads to open communication and the sharing of ideas. Empathy is equally vital – understanding the perspective of others and being open to their needs. I encourage you all to read The Outward Mindset from the Abinger Institute – a valuable approach to fostering understanding of those around you, what is driving them, what their challenges are, and what their ultimate goals are so you can work better together.Trust and empathy together can truly transform your relationships and build strong partnerships that you never imagined could exist. Those internal clients whom you once dreaded working with, become some of the best collaborations you have had in your career, and they become part of your professional network of advocates.

Emotional Intelligence: The Secret Sauce

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a powerful tool in transforming relationships and shaping a positive work environment. It’s not just about understanding others; it’s also about understanding yourself. When you can regulate your emotions and respond calmly in moments of conflict, you set the stage for productive discussions. Recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, including yourself. This understanding enhances communication and collaboration.Take the time to soak up knowledge on emotional intelligence to build awareness of your own triggers and emotions, as well as those around you. And try to find tactics to help yourself overcome feelings of frustration, anger, and overwhelm so you can effectively work through conflict without the vale of your emotions derailing the outcomes.

The Ripple Effect on Your Environment

Working through conflict and creating solutions to contribute to a positive work environment is not only about reducing frustration and burnout – it’s about catalyzing success. Strong relationships have a ripple effect on team dynamics and culture. Your influence grows as you consistently deliver results and prove you can create solutions to overcome difficult situations. Others will naturally want to learn from your experiences and have greater respect for you as a professional. Positive cultures empower individuals to take charge of their workflows and overcome obstacles with confidence, knowing from your example that it doesn’t have to end with damaged working relationships, back room gossip, and tension in the workplace.

In conclusion, navigating difficult relationships is a skill that will not only transform your career but improve your day-to-day working environment. Embrace challenges, employ conflict resolution strategies, build rapport, and leverage emotional intelligence. As marketers, we thrive on connections, and by turning challenging dynamics into thriving partnerships, we not only supercharge our careers but also contribute to the growth and vibrancy of our work environments. Stay tuned for our next podcast, where we delve deeper into building rapport and finding common ground. Remember, the path to success is paved with relationships well-nurtured.

Resources You Can Use:

Internal Persona Template: Know your internal clients and partners on a whole new level. Meaningfully build out personas that help you understand them better and how your partnership can help them achieve their goals so you can continuously work to improve your relationships in alignment to both of your goals and objectives. Learn how I use these to build relationships of impact in my LinkedIn Article: Creating Impactful Relationships: How to Leverage Internal Client Personas to Drive Career Growth.

The Outward Mindset: The Arbinger Institute is a resource I use every day to help foster more collaborative relationships in my life. The outward approach includes tactics that can be deployed in real time to create real results.

Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown is a great resource to start understanding your emotions on a whole new level and begin your journey into better understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent.

Listen in to the Surge Forward podcast as we delve into conversations with top leaders, internal clients, marketers, and partners, as they share their unique insights and strategies that forge stronger partnerships, influence, and trust and how mindset and time management will have you thinking of new ways to attack your day.  

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