10 steps to deal with conflicts within the team

by Wendy Soon on February 6, 2014


When people of different personalities and backgrounds work together, there is bound to be conflict. This is something that we cannot avoid. However, what we can put our hearts into, is to make sure these conflicts are resolved well, and the team regains its functionality as quickly as possible. In fact, a well-resolved conflict can increase the team’s bonding post mortem. Dealing with a team requires skill; dealing with a team conflict requires exquisite skill. Here are some tips that we frequently use when a conflict arises within our team:

  1. Acknowledge the problem. You need to first acknowledge the problem before you can deal with it. Avoidance of a problem will almost never resolve the issue.

  2. Face the problem. After you have acknowledged the presence of a problem, deal directly with it. Face the problem bravely and work together with all implicated parties to resolve it. This could involve an informal chat, or holding an official meeting.

  3. Resolve early. Not only should you resolve the problem, but resolve it as early as possible. A small spark of conflict can easily grow to a large flame if unattended to. Keep an open eye for rising conflicts and deal with them as soon as possible. If you are a boss, create an open door policy so that your folks will feel comfortable enough to approach you about any issues they have, before they escalate out of control.

  4. Stop complaining to non-related people. Facing the problem also means you do not go around complaining about the issue to everyone else but the people involved. Not only does that not solve the problem at all (you’re talking to the wrong people!), but it often builds defensive behavior in the parties involved, which makes resolving the conflict even more difficult later on.

  5. Avoid finger pointing. Pushing blame never solved a conflict — in only fuels the fire. Talk about the issue, and avoid character blaming as much as possible. (actually, avoid it like it’s leprosy)

  6. Remove your defensive wall. Justifying your action instead of listening to what someone else is trying to tell you builds a wall between you and the other party, making agreements nearly impossible to achieve.

  7. Maintain respect at all times. Speak respectfully to all parties involved and make it clear that you also expect them to show respect.

  8. Do not cross the “net”. We trigger defensiveness when we cross the “net” in negotiations. Focus on talking about ourselves and what we are certain about, and avoid talking about the other party and what you imagine him/her to be feeling or doing. Say “I feel…”, instead of “You did…”. For example, if someone said something about your attire that day which made you upset, our first instinct is to shout “You are so mean!” or “You did that on purpose to make me feel bad!”. Those are statements describing the other person’s intentions and actions, but may or may not be true. That is exactly what fires up the other person’s defensive wall and starts attacking you in return. To avoid these, you should instead say something like “When you said xxxx, I felt extremely disappointed and hurt”. Not only are you not crossing the net and accusing someone of something he might or might not have done, but you also described your own emotions in that statement, opening up your vulnerability, which in turn has additional effect of bringing down the defensive wall of the other party.

  9. Focus on resolution. The resolution should always be targeted at the issue, and should not trigger an imbalance of authority in the conflict. You should thus ask “what can I do?” rather than “you should…” (the latter will bring up the defensive wall again, which you want to avoid at all costs)

  10. Elicit multiple solutions from the people involved. They are more likely to be engaged if they are involved in finding solutions, not just being told what to do. It also puts everyone on an even ground, instead of an imbalance in authority or favor. Aim for a win-win solution if possible, so that nobody walks away feeling triumphant and no one walks away feeling humiliated.


All the best to a happy team! 🙂

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