4 Steps To Effectively Handle Team Conflict As a Team Leader
Want to effectively handle team conflict as a team leader? This simple four-step process can help.
The biggest misconception is that workplace conflict is a bad thing. People often misinterpret conflict as a form of failure. However, it is quite the opposite. Having different perspectives within your team is a great way to create diversity and the opportunity for constructive conversation. Contrary to popular belief, conflict is your greatest opportunity for growth in your work environment. And facing conflict with self-responsibility, open communication and empathy is the best way to show true leadership style.
So if facing conflict is a healthy way to create stronger teams, how do you approach it effectively? The short answer: emotional intelligence and good communication. In this blog, I share four practical steps to handle team conflict in a way that is considerate, respectful, and empowering for all involved parties. Use these steps to navigate future conflicts with more confidence and ease.
Deal with Team Conflict in Four Simple Steps.
- Ask Yourself, Where Can I Take Responsibility for this Team Conflict?
- Try To Understand The Other Person’s Perspective Before Making Your Point.
- Be Empathetic, But Direct In Your Team Communication.
- During the Team Conflict, Invite the Other Person into the Conversation by Asking Questions.
Step 1: Ask Yourself, Where Can I Take Responsibility for this Team Conflict?
Early on in my career, I was what they call a “yes man.” I’d take on any and all projects, tasks, and opportunities that I could. I worked 12-hour days Monday through Friday and would even work most Saturdays remotely. I wanted to make a good impression but I also felt like I had something to prove since I was younger than my coworkers.
This approach worked for a while until I reached burnout. I was anxious and fatigued, and my body was highly inflamed. As the health issues persisted, the burnout also affected how I felt about my work. I started resenting my boss after noticing the little work-life balance I had. But what I eventually realized is that the burnout had less to do with my boss and more to do with what I had been saying yes to. The root of the problem was my inability to say no.
Before Pointing the Finger at Others, First Look at the Role that You Played in Creating the Conflict.
When faced with conflict, we’re quick to point fingers at the other person or thing. This is a disempowering way to go through life. Once I took responsibility for what my role was in what led to the burnout, it opened the opportunity to create more balance in my life and heal the health symptoms I was experiencing.
In this example, I had to first take responsibility in order to initiate change, both in my work and health. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In order to get a different result, you must do something different. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but discomfort is a natural part of growth.
Rather than reacting defensively to conflict within the workplace, it’s helpful to check in with yourself and ask, “What has been my role in this?” Another way of asking this is, “What have I been available for?” Radical self-responsibility is the first step to solving conflict and initiate positive change.
Step 2: Try To Understand The Other Person’s Perspective Before Making Your Point.
“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” – Stephen Covey, Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The best conflict resolution strategies involve first dissolving any defensive reaction from either person. The best approach is to try and understand where the other person is coming from before inserting your opinion. Different viewpoints can co-exist without one being right or wrong. It’s important for team members to remember that you’re all working toward a common goal. Therefore, you want to have an open mind to perspectives that may differ from your own.
My ex-partner and I planned to run an important errand one Saturday afternoon. I asked when he wanted to leave. His response was, “Soon.” In my mind, soon would be about 15-20 minutes at most. So, I rushed around to quickly get ready.
However, when I finished getting ready to go, he was still in his office working on his computer. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Surely he’s going to get ready soon.
An hour passed, and I started to feel frustrated. “I thought we were leaving soon? It’s been an hour…” I said.
After a semi-argument, I came to find out we had totally different definitions of “soon.” To him, “soon” was 2-3 hours. For me, “soon” was 15-20 minutes.
We all have different definitions of words. In fact, we all see the world at large a little differently. We each are looking at life through a different lens. This is good to consider in all relationships — work and personal.
There’s a common ground we stand on within an organization. But we all come from different backgrounds, values and experiences that shape our individual reality. (That’s what makes us a team!)
Ask Questions When You Have a Disagreement to Get Clarity from the Other Person.
When we seek to understand before assuming or inconsiderately interjecting our opinion, it can ease a lot of the frustration and tension. Plus, it makes the other person feel heard and understood. This naturally creates the space for a mature conversation.
Seek to understand by asking the other person to clarify what they mean. Have them define it or paint the picture to avoid confusion or further conflict.
To understand where someone is coming from, ask more questions. Here are some examples:
- Why do you feel that way?
- What do you mean by _____?
- What does _____ look like for you, can you paint the picture for me?
Step 3: Be Empathetic But Direct In Your Team Communication.
Soften your edges, but make your point clear. If you’re nervous to deliver constructive feedback, try the feedback sandwich. The feedback sandwich can be a powerful tool to create positive outcomes. Think: positive, negative, positive.
For example, if you’re providing feedback to a co-worker on a powerpoint that has room for improvement, you could say something like, “Thanks for completing this in such a timely manner. I think it would be helpful to elaborate on each topic in two to three sentences and provide examples. The format is easy to follow and looks great!” This will help your team member feel more receptive and appreciative of constructive feedback. The individual gets better at the task and teamwork within the company also grows.
Sugar-coating your feedback and being indirect is an example of poor communication. It leaves room for guessing and assumptions, which can create lack of trust and disharmony amongst your team. Clear communication is direct communication. Soften the directness by empathizing. Empathy is one of the most important skills you can develop for better connection in your relationships. It is also a sign of emotional intelligence. You can empathize by seeking to understand, as mentioned in step two. You can also empathize by using positive facial expressions, like a soft smile, and having open body language, like using your hands to talk.
Step 4: During the Team Conflict, Invite the Other Person into the Conversation by Asking Questions.
That leads me to my fourth and final point: ask more questions. If you’re addressing potential conflict, make sure to invite in open dialogue about it. A conversation involves two or more people, not one. Open dialogue not only involves sharing, but also actively listening. Active listening is being attentive to what the other person is saying in the moment instead of thinking about what you’re going to say back. It involves genuinely trying to understand the other person’s perspective. When someone feels understood, it immediately dissolves any active, defensive barrier.
One of the most common causes of continued conflict or tension within teams is when one person makes assumptions without being open to resolution or having a conversation. It’s important to share your experience, especially if you’re the one who feels bothered by the tension, but make sure at some point you ask the other person to share their experience. It may be different from yours, and that’s okay. Addressing conflict doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up agreeing. You can agree to disagree. Agreeing to disagree, also known as having different perspectives, can actually create some healthy tension and diversity within the team. What’s important in conflict resolution is that all involved parties have mutual clarity and respect.
To open up dialogue about the conflict, you can start by asking, “What was that like for you?” or “What was your experience with _____?”
Follow these Simple Steps to Both Avoid Team Conflict and Ethically Resolve Team Conflicts as Well.
Team conflict and tension in the workplace is inevitable. What’s important is how we address it. I’m a firm believer that the best leaders lead with integrity. A strong team is built on responsibility, open communication, and empathy. A mentor once instilled in me that it is better over-communicate than it’s opposite. If you’re in a leadership position and want to create a good company culture, lead by example. Take responsibility for your mishaps, encourage open dialogue amongst staff members, and seek to understand your team with empathy.
Need some help reducing team conflict? The Creating a Team Culture workshop can be a big help.