How to manage conflict in a team – Do’s and Don’ts

Managing conflict in a team – in work, college or your friendship group – means learning how to work with different people. They say teamwork makes the dream work, but what happens when group friction becomes a real problem?

We all like to work in different ways. We have different strengths and weaknesses. Add a deadline or some pressure into the mix, and very quickly conflict can arise.

Conflict can be a small difference of opinion or a full blown argument. The team leader may naturally take the lead in managing conflict but it is important that all team members know how to resolve conflict and that everyone can recognise positive and negative behaviours that might make a situation worse.

Managing conflict – what NOT to do

Good teamwork means that every team member is able to share their ideas and opinions. When things go wrong and you are trying to work through them there are some things that are absolutely the wrong thing to do.

Blame game: Pointing the finger, blaming people and finding problems in everything, especially without having a solution.

Me, me, me: Not considering other views and only focusing on your way. This isn’t going to help the team move forward and find a solution.

Name-calling: In the heat of the moment you might brand someone lazy or stupid, once you’ve said these things you can’t take them back. Keep calm and really think about what you are saying.

Excuses: When we are wrong we can get defensive and focus on explaining ourselves instead of listening to what is being said and moving on.

Avoidance: This can be avoiding an issue and not letting others know, or simply avoiding the team and not turning up to meetings or answering messages.

Not being clear: Having to be honest and raise issues can make you nervous, so when you try to tell people how you feel you end up not being direct and clear. You can often end up blabbering on rather than getting to the point.

Telling everyone else except who is bothering you: Telling everyone else that you have a problem can make a problem get bigger. The more people you tell, the more the tension builds up. Put yourself in the shoes of your team member. They would hate to find out that everybody thinks there is an issue and is discussing it without them being given the chance to explain and/or improve their behaviour.

Hiding behind technology: Technology is really useful for bringing a team together and keeping them on task, but when things aren’t going well the use of technology will need to be considered. The way people can read and interpret messages is different. It is difficult to be fair and constructive and can very easily lead to the whole team trading long-winded messages or emails.

How to manage conflict like a boss

Conflict itself isn’t always a bad thing. Differing opinions bring about fresh thinking and allow us all to develop our working styles. The real problems come from handling conflict badly. So how do we get it right?

Control: Keep your emotions in check. Stop, listen and think before responding. The moment emotions run too high you can very quickly end up taking things personally and not thinking about the team.

Communicate: When approaching or resolving conflict, stick to the facts, and be clear, honest and respectful. This can take some practice. Emotions can very quickly take over. Practice what you want to say and write it down in a clear structure – this will help you cover all you need and not be drawn to over-complicate the issue.

Deal with it: Do not hide behind technology or simply hide from conflict. Instead, approach your team member face to face. Make sure you aren’t telling everyone else before you have raised the issue with them.

Champion problem solving: We have talked alot about recognising and raising the issue but really recognise how working these things through helps you develop your skills and helps the whole team move forward.

Listen: We have covered active listening before. It is a useful tool in tricky situations like resolving conflict!

Positive mental attitude: It can certainly seem that we let negative thoughts take over much faster than positive ones. Make an effort to really include all team members and when things do get tricky, keep in mind that people are working to make the team do better. Just because they have different ideas to you does not mean that people are out to sabotage your work.

Dealing with and managing conflict allows you to put more than just your teamwork  skills into practice. You’ll need to communicate well, problem solve, and pay attention to your self belief and self management skills. Conflict can bring a team together, drive change, show off different and creative ways of thinking AND develop your skills  – when you think of it like that it is not so bad after all!

Young Professional Challenge

This week we are challenging you to put what you have learnt in practice. You might be involved in group work at the moment. If so, there are some things you can do:

  • Share this article or learning with the team
  • If you are currently experiencing conflict in a team put some of the lessons in to play. Speak directly to the person involved and start working on a resolution
  • If you want a safe challenge, why not work through conflict process from one of your favourite TV shows or books? Think about how the characters could or should behave and what they could do better. It might not make as good viewing or reading but it is good practice for you to recognise the behaviour before you have to put it into play.

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