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How to manage conflict in teams

Conflict Management

 

Conflict resolution is a term you’ve surely heard of, especially in the context of group work. It is defined as an agreement reached when any issues of contention or disagreements are cleared up. If the term ‘problem-solving’ comes to your mind, you’re on the right track. Successful problem-solving will lead you to unlock the skill of conflict management. This is when your team has successfully established ways to effectively de-escalate conflict, as well as become more competent to handle disagreements to avoid future escalation.

 

Why is it important to be aware of conflict resolution methods?

Fundamentally, humans don’t like to be in a state of tension. However, conflicts are bound to arise when there is a diversity of opinions – something that is inevitable when you have a group of people working together.

 

In a group setting, facilitators should understand that it is their responsibility to be able to recognise how their members handle disagreements, and help determine healthier measures to adopt when working through conflicts. This will pave the way for your team to learn how to communicate more constructively for any discussion moving forward.

 

What are some methods we can employ?

  • The 5-Step Strategy
  1. Don’t ignore the conflict – as mentioned, conflicts are sure to exist when different viewpoints are presented. It is a misconception that such disagreements should be avoided at all costs. Instead, reframe your perspective (and your team’s perspective) to view conflict as an opportunity for constructive feedback and for new ideas to develop. Allow your members to discuss collaboratively with an open mind, and intervene when they are unable to resolve the issue on their own. Furthermore, you should tackle the issue as soon as possible, to avoid letting it develop into a more complex issue later on.

 

  1. Define the source of conflict – it’s important to get an accurate idea of the situation at hand, ask questions to pinpoint the cause of conflict, always seek to clarify with the people involved, ensuring you give both of them the chance to share their side of the story to get an unbiased understanding. Make sure to show them that you acknowledge their perception and give them space to voice their opinions.

 

  1. Bring them together to talk it out – allow the people involved to share their perspectives with each other, and get them to identify how a solution can be achieved. Remember the aim is to get them to cooperate, which means avoiding finger pointing and working towards ways of reaching common ground and resolving the conflict.

 

  1. Identify solutions both parties can support – sometimes after an open discussion, the members can arrive at their own solution. Otherwise, as the facilitator, you are to act as an impartial listener and discern the most acceptable and reasonable course of action. Acknowledge the benefits and shortcomings of each suggested solution, and ensure that both parties don’t lose sight of the common objective.

 

  1. Agreement – once both parties are able to put aside or embrace their differences, work together with them to reach an agreement that everyone can accept. It is a good idea to highlight the constructive lessons that can be learnt from the conflict, as it will ensure that your members are now more equipped to handle future disagreements more seamlessly and efficiently.

 

Beckhard’s GRPI Model

Organised like a pyramid, this model can help facilitators diagnose any overarching issues if they feel that their team is generally not very cohesive. Start at the top and move down each level to identify where the team’s issue lies.

  1. Goals: Are your team’s goals clearly defined, and is everyone committed to achieving them?
  2. Roles: Are everyone’s responsibilities and duties clearly outlined and has any part of the project been overlooked?
  3. Processes: Are the processes you adopt effective and accurately understood by the entire team?
  4. Interpersonal Relationships: Are the communication styles, trust and relationships between your group members strong or are there gaps?

Facilitators may use this as a guideline to locate the possible source of the teams’ dysfunction and figure out the best way to move forward to improve cooperation.

 

Important to remember!

  • Everyone is a unique individual, with different perspectives and world-views -> this diversity is a great thing to have in a team!
  • That also means that some opinions will clash with others -> reframe the misconception that conflict should be avoided, and instead see it as ground for healthy and dynamic discussions! This is where you employ your skills as facilitator and encourage the group to welcome opposing viewpoints (refer to Facilitation skills article)
  • But how do we avoid unproductive disagreements? -> Practice open and clear communication, and listen to others’ perspectives with respect and compassion; this is a great tip to handle difference in opinions or other issues in a mature and responsible manner without letting personal feelings get in the way
  • At the end of the day, your team has a common objective and it is imperative to not lose sight of that! It is not one person vs the other, rather, it is everyone vs the issue.

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