We’ve all seen it. The weekly team meeting is sailing along, then wham! Out of nowhere, emotions erupt, and a simple discussion escalates into intense conflict.
When tempers flare, the room can fill with tension, and poorly managed conflict can quickly poison the work culture. If our goal is to develop high-impact teams defined by collaboration and transparent interaction, then leaders must develop a strategy for healthy conflict resolution.
The following three steps will help leaders navigate conflict within their teams.
Identify the underlying cause.
More often than not, the issue that triggers a conflict isn’t the core cause. While there can be any number of foundational issues beneath the surface, these are most common:
• Interpersonal relationships: Face it. Sometimes people just don’t like one another. This can be the result of personality conflicts, leadership styles or an earlier conflict that was left unresolved. Providing your team with tools to understand the various personality types around the table, as well as how to relate to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, promotes healthy relationships and problem-solving.
• Change: Everyone has a built-in propensity for the status quo. When we know what to expect, it brings comfort and security to our lives, whether personally or professionally. Change destabilizes all of these things. Leaders must be careful to control the rate of change in order to mobilize their teams to move forward. When we move too quickly or without buy-in, conflict is inevitable.
• Poor communication: When leaders fail to effectively communicate, the result is often distrust and resistance. Leaders must paint the picture of where the organization is headed well before they can begin the journey. This allows individuals to buy into the vision, then join in creating a strategy to make it a reality.
Breath, and listen to the opposing point of view.
In the middle of a conflict, we are often so focused on explaining our own position we fail to hear the other person. There are two primary roles in conflict resolution: speaker and listener. One of the most important lessons leaders can learn is they can’t fill both roles simultaneously.
Take a breath. Your time to speak will come, and by focusing on listening to the other person, you build credibility for negotiation at a later point.
In order to be a good listener, leaders need to develop:
• Focus: We must be active listeners in order for the other person to be valued. This means looking into their eyes, assuming non-threatening body language and visually responding to the points they are making.
• Openness: Good listening involves being open to new ideas and perspectives. Not only does this add value to the other person, it also creates learning opportunities to identify solutions you might have missed.
• Affirmation: Positive affirmations such as nodding your head and making eye contact let the speaker know you are engaged with what they are saying. Avoid thinking through your response while they are talking. This distracts you from listening, and the speaker notices it easily.
• Summarize: Once the speaker has finished, summarize what you’ve heard. Restate important points and begin with the statement, “What I heard you say was…” Ask the other person to confirm that you heard them correctly.
Find common ground.
Too often, leaders adopt a win-at-all-cost mentality when faced with conflict. But in reality, our short-term “win” can have devastating long-term consequences, such as damaged relationships and decreased team morale.
Taking time to understand another’s point of view sets the scene for a collaborative solution in which everyone can win. This involves focusing on a common goal, identifying action plans that both parties can live with, then moving forward in tandem to accomplish the task at hand.
Conflict, though inevitable, doesn’t have to be unhealthy. More importantly, when we intentionally identify the underlying causes of the conflict, take time to listen to all sides, then work to find common ground, conflict can serve as a building block for innovative and creative solutions to difficult problems.
Is it easy? No. But the rewards of a unified team working together are well worth the effort.