As long as people work in teams in the work place, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise. The inherent differences that exist in people can come to play in a team and as such result in friction within the group members. These differences are not necessarily a bad thing, though. Healthy constructive criticism helps create diverse methods of thinking and solutions to difficult problems.

Different people respond to conflict in the work place differently. Some choose to ignore it, respond with passive aggressive actions, or even blame the other people involved; complain about it, or try to deal with it through hints and suggestions; or you can be direct, clarify what is going on, and attempt to reach a resolution through common techniques like negotiation or compromise.

It is obvious to all that in order to get rid of conflict, it has to be dealt with. Now, the million dollar question is, how? It is best to deal with conflict in a systematic and constructive manner, otherwise things can escalate and turn out to be worse that they were before.

Conflict in the work place does not always have to be a bad thing. In fact, healthy and constructive conflict is a component of high-functioning teams. When people from various backgrounds with different viewpoints, experiences, skills, and opinions are tasked with a project or challenge, they tend to do better than a homogeneous group and as such, members in a team should be open minded to these difference and not let them rise into full-blown disputes.

Tips for managing and resolving team conflicts effectively

1. Acknowledge that conflict can occur

Having in mind that conflict may and can occur is the first step to preparing for and resolving it especially if some of the team members have had conflicting views in the past. By recognizing that there will be conflict, a project manager knows what to expect.

2. Acknowledge the Conflict

Ignoring potential issues that can lead to conflict is never a good idea. This is because, you may want to save someone’s feelings now, but in the long run when you have to work with the same individual again, the issue may likely arise and thus lead to resentment and arguments. The best way to prevent your emotions from building up into something huge and ugly is to deal with the conflict and its symptoms head on and by letting your teammates know you disagree with their course of action. Even though the confrontation may be unpleasant, it will help to nip the conflict at the bud before it escalates.

3. Stop and Cool Off

Before you take any action in the face of conflict, you should first stop and cool off. Avoid destructive behaviors like:

  • Pointing fingers
  • Insults
  • Ultimatums and rigid demands
  • Defensive attitudes
  • Complaining behind teammates backs
  • Making assumptions about others behaviors
  • Gossiping

These bad behaviors can lead to your coworkers distrusting you views and seeing your tactics as manipulative even if they are not. Instead, you should meet the source of conflict on a one on one basis and rationally discuss your issues instead of making use of dodgy methods.

4. List Facts and Assumptions Based on Each Position

When the team members have been able to explain their view points, you should list out the facts and assumptions that have been made. Writing down the complexities of the argument can make things a lot clearer to the team. You can find out errors in an argument during this step, however, examining the information as a group prevents irrational arguments or possible favoritism from team members.

5. Break into Smaller Groups and Separate Existing Alliances

It is not uncommon in the work place for friendships to cloud judgment when working on a group project. Coworkers may feel pressured to agree with their friends in the work place because they do not want to lose their friends. By breaking up these existing alliances when discussing the final team positions, you often avoid this behavior and allow people to view conflicts free of persuasion.

6. If possible, allow for a period of self-healing

To be crystal clear, self-management is yours and your team’s end goal. It is not healthy for issues to remain open and not resolved, nor is it going to be ideal if the management is perceived to play favorites. It is not always best to intervene in conflict resolution all the time. You have to know when to step in and when to sit a conflict out.

7. Intervene and reset

Even though it has been pointed out that you should not always intervene when conflict arises, there are times when it is of utmost importance that you should intervene and help to resolve the situation. This calls for seasoned judgment and making an assessment that the conflict is escalating and not been handled by any of the parties.

You need to be cool headed, impartial and involved without getting dragged into trying to be both judge and jury. There may be conflicting facts from the conflicting parties so you have to judge wisely. You have to recognize the critical moments for your team members and be prepared to have their back. This may sometimes be in direct conflict with one of your own desires. You are indeed managing conflicts including your own, which is an art that needs to be mastered.

8. Celebrate the Resolution as a Team

When a conflict has been resolved in the work place, you should acknowledge specific contributions from individuals in the group. This will make them feel good about working towards a solution and leads to the entire team becoming more cohesive because of their united victory. This “celebration” can be in the form of a congratulatory email or an afternoon off as a reward, recognizing that success promotes team bonding.

9. Set ‘lead team’ rules

It is also important to have a set of rules that your team should abide with so as to provide a framework for staff to react appropriately and work through issues when they occur. These ‘lead team’ rules should not just be restricted to managing conflict but should also include rule on how the team should operate. But there is a clear need to have a focus on specific team rules around conflict management.

10. Clarify Positions

It is important to hear out the opinions of the conflicting parties. Allowing each team member to explain and elucidate on his or her stance will prevent miscommunication. In addition, giving them a chance to justify their opinions may allow the other party to better understand their stand. While people are explaining their viewpoints on the issue in question, practice active listening. Pay attention and refrain from jumping to conclusions before you have all the facts.

11. Be open minded

You should be open to being influenced by your team members and should also encourage them to be the same. When team members are more open to being influenced, they tend to develop mutual respect for one another. Such behavior is critical in making decisions and building ownership of team outcomes. This is a key success factor in getting teams to work well as a group.

12. Reflect on your own position

As the leader of a team, you should introspect on your role and decide if you are effectively managing team conflict. How do the leaders feel when you ask them to ‘tell me first?’ Do they agree that this is working as expected? This means that you build your own self-awareness of the situations you leave your team in while ensuring you are providing them the right environment to be successful. The right level of reflection will help you see what is happening and try to make small adjustments that help the team to resolve issues.

Be ‘reliable’ and be sure to follow through with what you say. Always be sure to under promise and over deliver. When you take on too much and do the opposite, you are putting your team at risk. And this destroys trust.  Do exactly what you would like your team to do and be a role model.

13. Learn About Destructive Conflicts

Conflict can be said to be destructive when there is no resolution in sight or the issue cannot be resolved. A psychological model for explaining destructive patterns is the persecutor-victim-rescuer triangle. The persecutor would be the antagonist or bully in this scenario, but the rescuer is also placing him or herself in a position of superiority over the supposed victim. Stop yourself if you see yourself slipping into any of these roles and also try to recognize it in your team.

14. Consider getting the help of an executive coach

In some cases, it may be of benefit to bring in outside help in the form of a coach to help you and your team. Bringing in a third party into the mix can help to change the team’s dynamic. Staff will be skeptical of why this individual has been engaged but they will also be listening to a ‘new voice’ who holds no allegiance to any member of the team which provides a good platform to establish or reset how your team members work together.

15. Comprise

Making a compromise during conflicts can be helpful, as it allows the parties involved to use their ideas. At times, preexisting ideas can be combined to come up with something even better.

16. Avoid herd mentality

Herd mentality or Groupthink is when a group suppresses the opposing views of members in order to create harmony. Even though it is good to have peace in teams, it is also healthy for the team to have opposing and diverse views. To avoid this, make sure that there is one or two members that bring up constructive criticism to ideas.

17. Don’t Try to Change a Team Member

You have to realize that your team members are unique, different in thoughts and have different forms of expressing themselves. Trying to change the way they are will only result to feelings of resentment. You can propose to them alternatives, or list benefits of other ideas, but in the end you may just have to accept that they will disagree with an outcome.

18. Reconvene the Groups

Resolution becomes much easier once these steps have been followed and the team meets again as a whole. After smaller groups have been allowed to freely discuss issues from every angle, viewpoints change, solving the initial conflict. Sometimes team members simply need to have their hesitations heard and discussed by the rest of the team. By analyzing the argument together, the team can move forward in agreement or at least a mutual understanding.

When your team is ready to make a decision, set up a list of actionable steps that can be taken to resolve the issue. Putting the conclusion down on paper makes the solution more tangible and creates a reference point for people that wish to review the team’s decision.

Other tips for managing team conflict effectively include;

  1. Attack the problem, not the person.
  2. Focus on what can be done, not on what can’t be done.
  3. Express your feelings in a way that does not blame.
  4. Accept ownership for your part of the problem.
  5. Solve the problem while building the relationship.

In conclusion, conflict doesn’t have to be entirely bad, it can bring out ideas up from different people even though it may be detrimental to the overall productivity of the group and its members at times. You just have to remember to allow people to express their ideas, even if they differ. Constructive conflict can bring a team closer together if handled properly. The key to building a strong team is respecting and appreciating the differences in your team members. Managing conflict when it arises in a quick and effective manner helps to maintain a strong and healthy team environment. Remaining open to differing beliefs and ideas is vital, and learning to view conflicts from a coworker’s perspective will help you become a more effective team member.

Ajaero Tony Martins