You are a leader managing a team of people. You have become aware that there is conflict between some of your team members. You wonder how you can resolve the team conflict. You see it as a difficult conversation. You can fix a work relation gone sour. Fixing a relationship takes serious effort but it can be done. Brian Uzzi, professor of leadership and organizational change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, has written an article — ‘Make your enemies your allies’ — in which he says that ‘the hard work is often worth it, especially in a work environment where productivity and performance are at stake’.
What should you do?
First, you are not the only one to face this problem. Conflict is pretty much inevitable when you work with others. Second, a conflict may become an opportunity for you to build stronger teams by confronting your differences. It’s all about how you are going to deal with it and what strategy you have.
What are the facts in the UK?
Workplace Conflict can have a hugely negative impact on organisations.
- The CBI estimates that conflict costs UK business £33 billion per year, taking up 20% of leadership time and potentially losing up to 370 million working days.
- In a 2015 survey 38% of UK employees report some form of interpersonal conflict at work, including 29% isolated incidents and 28% ongoing difficult relationships.
- 5 million working days were lost in the UK due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016-17.
- In 2016-17 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill health cases and 49% of all working days lost due to ill health.
A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation shows that more than four in 10 people say they have experienced depression and over a quarter of people say they have experienced panic attacks. 33% of UK workers regularly experience sleepless nights due to stress.
What does team conflict mean?
According to the Management Guide, team conflict is defined as ‘an interpersonal problem that occurs between two or more members of a team, and affects results of teamwork, so the team does not perform at optimum levels. Team conflicts are caused by the situation when the balance between perceptions, goals, or/and values of the team is upset, therefore people can no more work together and no shared goals can be achieved in the team environment.’
Team conflict examples
The sources of conflict can be diverse and it is important that as a leader you are clear in your own mind about the specific type of conflict that you are experiencing:
- Values of team members
- Goals versus expectations
- Roles and responsibilities
- Lack of resources
- Personality clashes
- Poor communication
Team conflict resolution: have you tried using the Interest-Based Relational approach (IBR)?
Roger Fisher and William Ury developed the IBR approach in their book (1981) Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In. They argue that you as a leader should resolve conflicts by separating people and their emotions from the problem. Your role as a leader is not simply to resolve conflict but to ensure that your team members feel respected and understood (you give them an opportunity to explain their problem, taking it turn) and that you appreciate the difference (we cannot all think in the same way). People see things in their own way and we often refer to this as ‘perception’.
Team conflict management plan
- Everyone should listen actively: make sure that there is no interruption during the conversation.
- Have a good understanding of body language.
- Be emotionally intelligent.
- Be able to use different anger management strategies.
Team Conflict resolution techniques
#1: The values to highlight during the conversation are respect and courtesy
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make a difference. That factor is attitude.’’ – William James
#2: Separate people from problems.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” – Dale Carnegie
#3: Listen carefully to different point of views and perspectives. Remember that people see the problem with a different pair of eyes.
“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point – a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.’’ – Thomas Crum
#4: Listen first, talk second. This is because people might say something that may make you change your mind.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.’’ – Winston Churchill
#5: Set out the facts clearly and talk about the impact. Use evidence that nobody can argue with.
“The most difficult thing in any negotiation, almost, is to make sure that you strip it of the emotion and deals with the facts.’’ – Howard Baker
#6: Explore options together. A third option may exist and you might want to resolve the issue in a collaborative way.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’’ – Albert Einstein
Here are a few other tools to help you:
ONE book to read:
TWO conflict resolution and disagreement skills interview questions:
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with an idea your colleague wanted to pursue. How did you approach the disagreement?
- Think about a situation in which you disagreed with the direction or idea that your boss/direct report/manager suggested. What did you do to professionally disagree? If not, what were your thoughts about the situation?
THREE coaching approaches:
- What would you like to see happen? What does that look like for you?
- What would it take for us to be able to move forward? How do we get there?
- Are you willing to share the impact this has had on you? Are you willing to hear my perspective?
This blog on How to resolve a team conflict at work gives you an opportunity to think about your own strategy if you are a coach or a potential client. Thank you as ever for stopping by. What do you think of what you’ve read? I hope it’s helpful if you are thinking of looking for an Executive and Leadership Coach who does virtual coaching. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @NadinePowrie with any comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will be covering:
- How you are making the difficult conversation even harder before you even start.
- Common mistakes almost everyone makes going into difficult conversations.
- How to transform your fear of difficult conversations into becoming a confident communicator.
I very much look forward to seeing you there.