How to Successfully Manage and Resolve Conflict on Your Team
Team conflict can cripple the efficiency of tasks and projects within your organization.
Whenever there are two or more people involved in something, conflict will inevitably arise. It might not happen right away, and the incidents may be few and far between — but you can't avoid conflict forever. As a business owner or manager, part of your job is to identify, manage, and resolve conflict so that your employees can be more efficient and productive.
When conflict is present in a team, it can bring everything to a screeching halt. So the sooner you can resolve the conflict, the better.
Here are several suggestions.
1. Speak to each party individually
Resolving conflict starts with finding facts. And the best way to begin finding facts is to speak with each party individually.
Find a safe and private place to speak with each person involved. Ask them a series of questions and probe what the source of the issue is (in their opinion), how it's frustrating them and what they believe the proper solution is.
As you speak to different people privately, a couple of interesting things will usually happen. First off, you'll start to notice that the details of the situation are different each time. That's not usually because people are lying. In most cases, it's because each person interprets the events differently based on their vantage point.
The second thing you'll notice is that most people actually want similar outcomes. How the conflict plays out may be different, but all individuals usually agree that a mutually beneficial result is best. If you can zero in on what this is, it makes your job a lot easier.
2. Act as the mediator
Once you've had an opportunity to speak to the parties individually and gather facts around what's really happening, it's time to bring everyone together. Depending on how heated the conflict is, this can be a very raw and sensitive environment. However, the key is to push through.
Set expectations from the very start. Generally speaking, it's best to position yourself as a mediator and not the judge. People are much more likely to own whatever decision is made and follow through with the necessary action steps if they're involved in making the decision. If you simply etch an edict in stone and tell them to do something, at least one party (and likely both) will walk away with some degree of resentment. They'll also have learned nothing about conflict resolution and will be dependent on you to babysit their problems in the future.
3. Coax small compromises
Since you've already met with each party individually, you have a decent idea of the big picture. You also know where people are willing to give up some ground. Probing these areas and getting someone to make a small compromise upfront bodes well for the rest of the resolution process.
For example, if you can get one person to give a little ground on a small issue, it makes the other person feel obligated to do the same. And once both people have compromised, it strips away so much of the pretense and ego and cracks the door open for bigger compromises elsewhere.
4. Preemptively avoid future conflict
Conflicts take a lot out of your team. Use this as an example and let it inspire you to prevent future conflict.
One of the best ways to preemptively avoid future conflict is by building a stronger team where people know and care about one another. Simple team bonding exercises work extremely well. If you're in a virtual setting, consider setting up weekly blind lunch "dates" where you randomly pair employees to share lunch over video (this may sound weird, but it works really well.)
It's also helpful to have employees do a couple of personality tests. Not only does this help them get to know their strengths, weaknesses and triggers, but it also gives you keen insights into how they function.
Conflict isn't always a bad thing. If you do a decent job of handling it when it happens, conflict actually produces some positive changes and growth. But to benefit from conflict, you can't let it linger. Once an issue is solved, put it to bed. Don't allow it to be a sticking point in the future. This is one of the keys to maintaining a strong team.
Related: How to Disagree the Right Way
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