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How to Effectively Resolve Conflict as a Team

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  • 0:03 What Is Team Conflict?
  • 1:07 Team Conflict…
  • 4:25 When Resolution Doesn't Work
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

At some point, every work team will experience disagreement. If not handled appropriately, disputes can quickly turn to conflict. The good news is there are steps the team can take to resolve issues quickly.

What Is Team Conflict?

Your boss just commissioned you to be a part of the product development team. You begin working with the gang and in a matter of hours, it's total mayhem! People are yelling, papers flying, and your teammate's lunch lands on your freshly pressed shirt. What you just experienced is an example of team conflict, and it's pretty common in the workplace (though often not that extreme!).

Team conflict is nothing more than a struggle between two or more members of a work team. It usually arises because members do not share the same team goals or vision. It could even be that members have different perceptions about the work or even the team as a whole. Members may be in conflict with their role or the hierarchy of the team.

Regardless of how a conflict begins, it is unhealthy and needs to be resolved quickly so the team can move on and be productive. After all, team conflict creates an adverse climate; members will become frustrated, and the work will not get done. The good news is, there are plenty of strategies that can be used to resolve a conflict. Let's explore a few.

Team Conflict Resolution Strategies

You've heard people say that there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. The same principle applies to team conflict. At the first sign of conflict, step back and think about the situation. Ask yourself what role, if any, did you play to cause the conflict? If you honestly feel that you may have added sparks to the fire, don't fret.

Resolving conflict can be happen using a few strategies:

  • Share in the responsibility
  • Avoid emotional outbursts
  • Show empathy
  • Listen to understand
  • Use direct communication
  • Choose 'I' messages
  • Recognize and appreciate differences
  • Have a safe place to go to avoid intense conflict
  • Consider mediation
  • Find a resolution
  • Implement ways to follow-up

Take the initiative to share in the responsibility. In other words, keep calm and talk it out. By admitting that your actions contributed to the struggle, the other person may also accept their responsibility. Let's see this in action:

During a team meeting, Lenny and Henry begin to argue about ideas. Watch what happens:

  • Lenny says: 'I propose we toss Henry's plan for the new project and use mine. Henry's ideas are dumb!'
  • Henry responds: 'I resent that, Lenny! My ideas are as good, if not better than yours. Your plans look like a 2-year old chimp wrote them!'
  • Lenny begins to raise his voice, saying: 'Why, I have never been so insulted in my life!'
  • Henry turns to leave, saying: 'I'm telling the boss on you.'
  • Lenny retorts: 'I'm telling the boss' boss on you.'

You get the idea. While Lenny initiated the conflict by offending Henry, he added to the argument by insulting Lenny. Before we knew it, both men were battling it out in the boardroom. If we re-work each action, we might find that the conflict can be resolved.

The best way to avoid fighting is to dodge emotional outbursts. In other words, attack the conflict, not each other. Yelling and screaming only escalates matters.

The men must be open to communication, and it's not difficult if both parties maintain their dignity and show respect for one another. It takes good listening skills. Empathy, or seeing the situation through the other person's eyes, sometimes changes one's perspective. This leads to listening to understand each other, which means listening to the other party, summarizing what was said, and clarifying any information you do not understand. It's like having checkpoints throughout the conversation to be sure you really comprehend what is said.

Use direct communication. Did you notice that Henry and Lenny were both using 'You' messages that puts blame on the other? This never works, but 'I' messages do! This is where you express the situation in terms of how you yourself feel or are interpreting it, without including blame. For example:

Instead of saying: 'Your plan is dumb.'

You might try saying: 'I would like to learn more about your plan before I voice an opinion.'

Using 'I' messages may help the men recognize and appreciate their differences so they can move on. By asking for more information, the men may discuss, not debate, the reasons for rejecting the other person's plans for the new project. After the men deliberate the dilemma, they just may be able to work out their differences.

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