How Leaders Can Best Manage Conflict Within Their Teams
It’s no secret that conflict is a part of life and definitely a part of day-to-day business. When we spend so much time with the same people every day, conflict is inevitable. But, as a leader, you probably dedicate more of your time on issues like productivity and meeting deadlines than on conflict resolution. When there is strife and personalities clash, you may reach for what you think will be a quick fix: find the “problem” people and separate them from the rest of the group. Despite your best intentions, hunting for a problem person, labeling, or ostracizing is not the answer. Labeling any of your team members or allowing them to label each other as “toxic,” “the problem,” “a jerk,” etc., only perpetuates disconnection.
If not handled properly, conflict alienates people and gets in the way of creativity and productivity. There’s another, more effective way to bring your team back together and lead them to success. Of course, despite your best efforts to keep the team intact, you may realize that a particular employee is not the right fit for your culture, making it a good time to consider if it’s time to part ways. For team members or leaders who are generally a good fit but who are placing unnecessary and damaging labels on their colleagues, read on for some tips on how to turn this around and create a more harmonious environment.
Whether or not your team is experiencing conflict at this moment, now is a good time to gather them together and set the following ground rules for healthy conflict resolution today and for in the future:
Conflict is a part of life and must be handled professionally and productively.
According to businessdictionary.com, “Conflict is friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities.” Notice the word “perceived.” As coaches, we know that people’s perception IS their reality. If your team’s perception of a person or situation is negative, their outlook will be negative, and their ability to find resolution together will be hampered. The truth is, conflict arises out of personal values clashing -- people feel that what’s most important to them has been dishonored. Educate your team on these points, and then help them to shift their perspective by doing this team-building exercise.
Related: The 10 Benefits of Conflict
Ask each person involved to share their view of the situation. Then ask them to zoom out and describe what the other person’s view might be. This exercise helps them to step outside of themselves and tap into empathy for the other person. When everyone has had a chance to share, encourage your team to acknowledge and validate each other’s views and not take it as a personal attack if other people’s views don’t align with theirs.
Create a culture where each person’s value is well-known.
When conflict arises, it can cause members of your team to become insecure about their place in and value to the organization. You are their rock, and they are looking for you to lead them back to stability and cohesion. Remind them that they are all an important part of your organization and make sure everyone knows that each person brings something unique and valuable to the table. Let them know you appreciate their work and then offer them the opportunity to air any concerns directly with you, and ask that they do so in a professional and productive manner. Then request each person involved in the conflict take a few minutes to reflect on the respect and appreciation that you have for them, internalize it, and then approach each other with that same respect and appreciation.
Related: 7 Steps for Keeping Conflict Healthy
Find common ground and rebuild.
Unless your organization is hiring the wrong people, each and every member of your team has something in common: a shared passion for your company’s mission and values. Sometimes when tempers flare and feelings are hurt, a redirection away from the tension is needed. Show them how to make the best of conflict by turning disagreement into a brainstorming session where each member is invited to offer input on solutions that will not only solve but resolve the situation. Ask your team forwarding questions like, “What can you agree on in this situation?” or, “What is useful about continuing this discussion?” or, “What are you hoping will come out of this?” Asking these types of questions will remind everyone that they’re in this together and WILL encourage them to stick together and focus on moving forward to accomplish the mission at hand.
By addressing conflict in this way, any disconnection or dispute can be turned into an opportunity for team members to understand each other better, as well as increase connection and trust.