Chances are at some point in your life you’ve dealt with a disagreement with your coworkers. We all have different points of view, values, and perspectives which makes it nearly impossible to avoid workplace conflicts. These conflicts can cause all sorts of issues like loss of productivity, emotional turmoil, resentment, or an inability to come to agreements. Understanding and dealing with conflict in a team can help workplaces function better and remove the negative emotions associated with conflict.
There are many reasons conflict may arise within the workplace. Sometimes we may feel like we aren’t being listened to. Other times we might not be able to understand another person’s perspective. When both parties aren’t able to communicate and listen well, emotions can rise, and conflicts can feel threatening. However, it’s possible to put these things aside and make sure everyone is being listened to and achieving their own goals so you and your team can keep moving forward together. The following will include tips and methods of addressing conflict within a team.
The types of team conflict you might experience
Task-based conflicts surround issues related to work tasks. An example of task-based conflicts would be two employees arguing over who should pitch an idea to a new client. These conflicts can be easy to resolve, but sometimes involve deeper issues. In this instance, perhaps both coworkers want to prove their ready for a promotion by presenting an idea to a client.
These types of conflicts can often be resolved when leaders, like line managers, step in to make sure everyone feels listened to. Leaders within organisations might be able to help both parties communicate better to foster better collaboration.
Value conflicts occur because individuals have starkly different value systems. These can relate to politics, ethics, religion, or other important beliefs someone may hold. This type of conflict is particularly likely to arise if workplace issues that challenge someone’s values comes up. For example, if a potential client with a history of corruption enquired about your workplace’s services, someone with strong values and ethics might be against serving this client. Another employee might feel like it would be fine to proceed as long as your workplace isn’t acting corruptly. A dispute related to values can be resolved if both parties come to understand their counterpart’s view as well as their shared views and values.
Leadership conflicts involve issues that arise due to differences between leadership styles and the reactions people have to those leadership styles. Some employees may respond well to strict rules and firm deadlines where others prefer a hands-off approach. Like task-based and value conflicts, leadership conflicts can often be resolved through ensuring everyone feels listened to. As a leader, you might be able to manage conflict by adjusting and adapting your own style depending on who you are working with.
Work style conflicts
We all have different work styles. Some people love working collaboratively within groups whereas others feel they do best when working independently. It can be difficult to manage conflict in a team when everyone has different work styles. Beyond the preference of working collaboratively or individually, some people prefer input throughout the process of working on a task while others don’t. Additionally, some people might get work done early whereas others produce their best quality work when they’re under the pressure of a nearby deadline.
Personality clashes or relationship conflicts
This type of team-based conflict can occur because of differences in personality or tastes. You might experience tension with another coworker because you disagree about core issues. It can help to try to explore what you do have in common and bring up the source of tension if it’s appropriate and you feel comfortable doing so. Sometimes, it might be necessary to get a manager to step in to help with personality clashes.
How to resolve team conflicts
The flow of team conflict resolution
There are many steps involved within team conflict resolution strategies. These may include clarifying the disagreement, agreeing on a common goal, figuring out how to achieve a common goal, determining barriers, figuring out how to get around barriers, and finally, agreeing on the agreed solution.
Preparing for resolution
There are things you can do to prepare for conflict resolution. When undertaking group conflict management, you may want to begin by recognising your own biases and perceptions and thinking about ways you can avoid escalation. It can also be helpful to remember there are no opposing teams. You’re all working towards a goal together.
Gaining an understanding of the situation and clarifying the disagreement
To have the best success with resolving a conflict, you’ll want to have a thorough understanding of the situation and issues present. You’ll need to ask questions and listen to the other party’s concerns. You’ll want to make sure you truly understand what the disagreement is about. Often, when conflicts arise, our focus on our own goals may lead us to misunderstand the goals of our counterparts. Make sure you and your counterpart are both on the same page about what the issue is so you can communicate effectively and come to a resolution together.
Figuring out how to achieve a common goal
This step comes before the agreement of the common goal. It’s always possible to engage a mediator, but if you have good team conflict resolution skills, you won’t need to do that. Start by backing away from placing blame on the other party and ask some important questions so you can understand what goals you both share.
So, what interests do you both have? What solutions are available? How can you achieve these solutions? Right now, you don’t need to be right. Being right can feel good, but it isn’t always the most important thing. You can feel just as good when you get positive outcomes within your relationships, so it’s important to set your discussion up for success.
You can also do these two things:
- Set rules for your conversation. Setting some healthy ground rules can help to keep your conversation on track, ensuring it’s productive and that everyone is included to get their perspective in without being interrupted or judged. If everyone gets to have a say, there’s a lesser chance that people will feel the need to cut in, argue, or try to “win a battle”.
- Listen while making an effort to be empathetic. Ask open-ended questions that allow others to explain further. Tune into emotions, body language, and things that might not be said. Being listened to feels good and doing this will make your counterpart feel more at ease and willing to work together.
Agreeing on a common goal
You and your coworker or team likely have some common goals, so even when challenges arise, you may be able to have a discussion to de-escalate the situation and come to an agreement.
For example, if you and your coworker are experiencing tension because your coworker has just told you they’re going to deliver their part of a client pitch PowerPoint ten minutes before the deadline and you prefer when your coworkers submit things a few hours ahead of schedule, you might be frustrated and be upset with your coworker. Although your immediate reaction might be to think they’re wrong and you’re right (after all, your part of the project is already done), it won’t do you any good to discuss the fact that you’re upset they’re going to be so close to the deadline as it isn’t going to make them suddenly be able to meet the deadline. Instead, you might both talk about what you want to achieve with this specific presentation. Although your coworker may have finished their part of the project later than you’d like, you can work towards your common goal of polishing your PowerPoint and making sure you’re both ready to present.
Determining what’s in the way to achieve a common goal
Once you finally agree on common goals, it’s time to assess what barriers you have and how you can navigate these barriers. Do you have any resources or skills you can provide? Does your counterpart? These things will help you come up with a final solution.
Agreeing on the solution
You’ve gotten to the final step! Now that you’ve gone through all the stages, you’re ready to agree on a solution and take action.
Some tips that may help you achieve group conflict resolution and deal with conflict in a team
#1. Learn how to embrace conflict
No matter how well you listen, communicate, or try to avoid conflict, there always some things that aren’t in your control. If you learn to embrace the fact that there will be situations that pop up that will challenge personalities, goals, interests, and things that will pose unexpected challenges, you’ll be ready to react in productive and healthy ways.
#2. Be open to talking together and understand the importance of listening carefully
Improving your ability to communicate is something you should always be working towards in life. It will serve you well to prepare for conflict prevention by practicing and improving on your communication skills throughout your life.
#3. Work towards finding an agreement
Try to avoid conflicts by being openminded from the start. If you approach a situation without being worried and instead think about how you can achieve an agreement, then you can skip the tension and move straight to problem solving.
#4. Provide guidance when appropriate
If you see tensions rising or identify there might be an issue where you can provide guidance, it might help to avoid team conflict. If you have information or skills that can help others, feel free to pop in with your ideas if it is appropriate to do so and might help to keep things from escalating.
#5. Don’t fear emotions
Some people think that emotions don’t belong in the workplace, but that just isn’t true. Emotions can help guide us in the right decision and push us towards logical solutions. Use emotions to your benefit and respect when others need to take a step back when things get heated.
#6. Be quick to forgive
Not everyone is fair during a conflict. Some people may use emotional manipulation techniques, and in this case, it might not be a good idea to be quick to forgive. But if you are dealing with someone who is coming from a good place and simply has a different perspective, being quick to forgive can be incredibly important for resolving conflicts.
According to the Harvard University Program on Negotiation, if a coworker or client accidentally offends you, it’s better to forgive and forget than hold a grudge. PON also notes that it isn’t always possible to forgive. Both people must be willing to reconcile in a genuine way. If you find it difficult to forgive, you can work on your own capacity to forgive others through roleplay situations. According to research, it also helps to believe others are capable of personal growth.
#7. Study up on tips to avoid team conflict before it arises
The tips provided will help you resolve team conflict as issues arise, but it’s important to avoid conflict, too. Although not all matters of conflict can be prevented, there are some things you can do now that might prevent some issues later on.
According to the Harvard University Program on Negotiation, some of the best ways to avoid conflict include being careful not to stereotype, discussing difficult issues ahead of time, and readily challenging your own assumptions. You may also be able to avoid team conflict by doing the following:
- Approach things with a positive, open, and friendly attitude.
- Be aware of potential clashes with personality, values, or beliefs.
- Communicate respectfully even when emotions are heightened.
- Remember what you’re trying to achieve.
- Always be open to listening.
- Be constructive and avoid harsh criticism or blame
- If you’re a leader within your organisation or workplace, make sure your employees can voice their concerns before major issues arise.
- Take a step back from situations to see things more clearly.
You can learn more about conflict resolution in CMA Consulting workshops and trainings. In ‘Conflict Resolution Skills’, we explore skills to resolve conflict.
To learn more about CMA’s workshops, click here.