Conflict is inevitable when you work with others. People have differing viewpoints, which can either be healthy and productive or escalate into pandemonium under certain circumstances.
What matters is how you manage conflict. Whether it works for or against your team efforts depends on your approach: Do you choose to ignore it, downplay it or blame someone else for it – or do you deal with it head on, at the earliest possible stage?
On the healthiest teams, the differences between members are what make their work the most effective. This requires everyone to be open to those inevitable differences and use them to the team’s advantage.
How to Resolve Conflict
Successful conflict management is based on every team member understanding and appreciating the opinions, ideas and viewpoints of others. It’s critical to walk a mile in their shoes. In other words, maintain a constructive difference of opinion, even if it means agreeing to disagree, and avoid disruptive, potentially destructive negative conflict.
- Diagnose conflict early. It’s like a disease – best treated if spotted and dealt with at the first sign of a flare up. If you see any signs of conflict, discuss the situation with other team members. Once everyone recognizes the issue, the resolution process can begin.
- Discuss the impact of conflict on team performance. This means putting the team and its objectives first. It may involve some individuals setting aside their own opinions or ideas for the time being. If a single team member wants to win more than they want resolution, you can hit a stalemate.
- Communicate. This is vital to resolution. Everyone involved must talk about the issue and discuss their feelings. Active listening is essential because in order to move on, you have to understand where the other person is coming from.
- Understand the situation. Make sure that each person’s position is heard. There will be strong emotions at work and you have to get through them before you can reveal the true nature of the conflict. Find out what everyone needs. You may be surprised: Those conflicting requirements are not as far apart as you thought!
- Brainstorm solutions. Everyone has their own vision of the ideal outcome. Use brainstorming to reach a consensus that everyone can live with.
- Keep an open mind. Don’t criticize or judge the perceptions or assumptions of other team members. Everyone needs to feel heard and acknowledged. Try breaking the team into smaller groups, separating factions that disagree. Each sub-group should review the facts, assumptions and beliefs underlying each opposing position. Not only can this reveal new areas of agreement, but it also can unveil fresh ideas and solutions. Then reconvene as a full team to decide on the best course of action.
A Few More Tips
Conflict is natural and acceptable, as long as it’s effectively managed. Here are a few additional guidelines:
- Don’t let it get personal. Stick to the facts and issues, not personalities.
- Always maintain respect. If a situation escalates, take a break. There is little point in trying to talk through issues when both sides are upset.
- Keep team issues within the team. Taking them outside allows conflict to fester without being directly managed.
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