Beyond Simply Managing Team Conflict by Cindy Stradling CSL, CPC

Most people are taught at a very young age to avoid conflict. They are told to “not rock the boat” or to “be a team player” and to get along with everyone, even if they may disagree with a decision or a direction.

In reality, this aversion to conflict tends to increase problems within teams. Team members do not feel comfortable in voicing any opposing ideas or considerations. Instead, they sit and become passive-aggressive in how they are managing the situation.

A better and more effective way to see conflict is as a natural and helpful part of any interaction. Without conflict, nothing ever changes. This means no innovation, no increased in efficiency, and no new ideas or processes that could propel the business or the team to a whole new level.

Getting Comfortable with Conflict

Proactively talking to the team about conflict and how to effectively manage difficult conversations is a positive step. Hiring a trainer to facilitate a communication course is an excellent way for the team to learn better communication techniques and methods to share ideas and information in a non-confrontational way.

Modeling Conflict Resolution Strategies

As a team leader, how you handle conflict is a template for how the team handles conflict. If the team leader is conflict avoidant or highly aggressive in interactions, the team will tend to model the same approach. If the team leader is collaborative and focuses on sharing ideas, visions, and options, the team is more likely to be more collaborative and open to discussing ideas without becoming defensive or confrontational.

Leader as Mediator

Leaders who are comfortable stepping into conflict and mediating between team members in a private, confidential discussion can address conflict as it occurs. The leader as mediator is also a great model to use, particularly as team members become more aware of how they can use the same communication techniques to address conflict they are experiencing.

Team Building Exercises and Assessments

Individual and team assessments help create profiles for team members to understand how they approach conflict situations. Developing a perspective that other people on the team may approach conflict differently helps build on working together more effectively. It also normalizes different approaches to conflict or disagreements, which increases awareness of personal style differences.

Team building exercises and workshops are a great way to explore some of these issues in a comfortable and safe environment. It is also a wonderful way for team members to build rapport, which is another critical factor for reducing conflict within any group, organization, or team.