When Teams Face Conflict

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 23, 2007

Most people dislike conflict. Rather than express disagreement, they will avoid the issue or withdraw from the conversation. On the other hand, some thrive on conflict and the thrill of victory, bullying their issue until they “win.”

Conflict is a normal part of your team’s development, creativity and productivity. Managed effectively, conflict enables the team to communicate their differences, seek common goals and build a collaborative consensus or “win-win.” Managed ineffectively, conflict can lead to frustration, stonewalling, and a breakdown in your team’s work.

When your team members have different ideas or interests, take the time to manage the conflict constructively:

  • Just Listen. Let them talk completely and without interruption. Actively listen to what they have to say. Look for the “why” they are so intent on getting their way. Mentally separate the specific facts and issues from their position.
  • Reassure. Check your understanding of their perspective. Do not imply either of your perspectives is right or wrong. Let them know they have a right to feel the way they do. Validate their feelings but don’t mirror their emotions! Stay neutral. Don’t let their anger or excitement affect your voice, tone, body language or words. (A word to the wise: If after lots of listening and reassuring, they still haven’t calmed down, suggest that you take a break and return at a specific time to continue the discussion.) Emotions just add fuel to the fire.
  • Build Trust. Agree on what the conflict is. Let them know you would like to see the conflict resolved and that you are willing to work toward a mutually beneficial solution. It is absolutely critical that you are honest and you believe the conflict can be resolved. Be truthful and don’t manipulate the situation for your own benefit. Avoid using the words, “Yes, but” and say, “I agree and…”
  • Look for the Win/Win. As you work through major issues of the conflict, take the time to summarize both sides. Then summarize where you agree and disagree. Continue to listen and empathize, focusing on solving the conflict. By moving past the positions and identifying the underlying issues, agree on a mutual solution to resolve the conflict. Make suggestions for moving forward and agree on what each of you will do next. Take time to plan positive, practical and concrete steps you both can take. Be sure to write them down so you both can remember what you promised.
  • End with the Future. Summarize your understanding and let them know what you will do, what you expect them to do, and by when. Close with a check-in to make sure they are “okay” and the conflict has been resolved.

Most disagreements can be settled in a single session and have no need to progress further. In this way, you can increase the quality of the team’s work and decisions by looking for solutions that meet everyone’s objectives.

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