Conflict onboard can be conquered

Feb 11, 2014 by Alene Keenan

With the approach of Valentine’s Day, many people take time to recognize and acknowledge the people we know and love. Not everyone feels all warm and fuzzy about this, but just remember that you don’t have to romanticize the day in order to show appreciation and consideration for the people in our lives.

This year, resolve to demonstrate respect and integrity in all of our dealings with others, all of the time.

Every occupation has its tensions. It isn’t a question of avoiding them but of how to deal with the conflicts that develop from them.

Yachting has its own particular challenges. Not only are we dealing with people with different backgrounds and personalities, but we are dealing with them 24/7. Now add some bad habits and interesting idiosyncrasies, throw in a bunch of expectations, and then turn up the heat a little with the daily trials of life onboard. Guess what? You are bound to have conflict. It’s unavoidable. And it is in your best interest to learn how to handle conflict respectfully.

Sometimes we are faced with situations that make us really uncomfortable or just plain angry. Before you go overboard with your opinion, decide whether this issue is really important. Are you compromising your beliefs or morals? Is someone breaking the law? If yes, it’s important that you stress your position. If not, maybe this is a time for compromise. Consider your co-worker’s arguments, why they are upset, and their point of view. Conflict can lead to a process that develops closeness or isolation.

If you are having angry feelings about the people you live and work with, you are headed for trouble. Try to get to the heart of the matter. Your crew is your family. There will be plenty of “moments” when things are not going the way you want, or the way you think they should, or when someone is blatantly breaking the rules. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect — even during an argument. Learn to talk about what the real issue is, so you can avoid constant fighting.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with conflict:

1. You can’t “win” a conflict; that means getting the outcome you want, without addressing the underlying issue. The issue will always come up again later.

2. Conflicts mean that people care enough about something to disagree strongly, and that is a good thing. But issues have to be addressed, and cannot be allowed to go forever. Resolve disagreements when they start. They tend to get worse with time.

3. If someone did or said something that made you angry, or if you don’t understand their actions or viewpoint, simply asking about it can make a difference. Don’t assume that people do things to annoy or irritate you; sometimes there is a good reason why people do things the way they do. Simply asking can resolve the discord. Make your inquiry a question, not an accusation. “I was wondering why you ….”, not “Why do you always have to …”

4. Identify what you see in objective, neutral terms. Describe the facts of the situation as objectively as possible. What is actually happening, when and how is it happening, what is the other person doing, and what are you doing? To be objective, you are only allowed to list verifiable, observable facts. You are not allowed to assume or guess at what the other is thinking or doing. Cite facts. “I’ve noticed that you criticize my work” is OK, but “I’ve noticed that you don’t respect or value my work” is not OK. You can’t assume something about the other person.

5. Apologize for your part in the dispute. Usually everyone involved has done or said something to sustain the tension. You are taking responsibility for your part in the conflict, not accepting the entire blame. Appreciate the other person’s part in the issue, and tell them why it is worth it to you to solve the conflict.

6. See the “bigger picture.” Identify the consequences of the conflict in order to show why it’s necessary to resolve it. Doing this can help you step outside of yourself and see things from a new angle. What’s the objective or goal? When both parties have a desired outcome, it is more likely to resolve the issue.

7. Compromise when possible. Easy to say but hard to do, compromising is a major part of conflict resolution and any successful relationship. It requires knowing, accepting, and adjusting to your differences.

8. If you can’t find a common ground, go through the chain of command and get mediation, with the goal of helping you find your own solutions, not to offer advice or push you to a particular outcome.

9. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. If you can’t resolve an issue, sometimes it’s best to drop it. You can’t see eye-to-eye on everything. Focus on what matters.

10. Realize that you have the right to a safe, secure workplace and any concerns you have regarding this need attention. If a co-worker yells at you, calls you names or ridicules you, tell them to stop. If they don’t, walk away and tell them that you don’t want to continue arguing right now. If you can’t express yourself without fear of retaliation, you may be experiencing abuse.

11. People disagree, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You have the right to a different opinion from your co-workers. While conflict is normal, your disagreements shouldn’t turn into personal attacks and no one involved should try to lower the other’s self-esteem.

There is conflict in all relationships You and your crew must choose how you will act when conflict occurs. To keep things on an even keel, communication is key. When you communicate effectively, you understand your co-workers better and make your team stronger. When you can resolve conflicts successfully, you are developing a healthy working relationship, and it will help you be more successful in all areas of your life.

Resolve to be kind to one another. Put a little love in your heart.


Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions ( Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or Comments on this column are welcome at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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