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Resolving Conflicts on the Team

Conflicts among team members will occur from time to time, and team members may struggle to positively resolve conflicts that arise. Finding out with your team members how best to deal with conflict situations begins when you recognize positive team behavior and negative team behavior.

Staying off the destructive track

Various kinds of behavior make conflicts worse. Here are some examples:

  • Finger-pointing. Finding fault or blaming someone else does nothing to solve the problem is great for building unhealthy tension in a team.
  • My way, or the highway. When you push and push for your point of view and show little interest in considering someone else's, you only increase the volume of debate, which drowns out any prospects of settling debate.
  • Insults galore. Name-calling and other personal insults are not invitations for resolving a conflict.
  • Verbal threats and ultimatums. These sound like, "I'm going to get you," or "This way or else!" Such outbursts intimidate some people, turn off others, and they're not exactly the best way to promote good teamwork.
  • Defensiveness. 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.
  • Avoidance. Running away from the problem and hoping that it goes away — avoidance at its best — seldom resolves an issue.
  • Beating around the bush. Attempting to address the concern at hand but then rambling and talking around the point simply clouds the issue so much that it's left unaddressed.
  • Telling others and not the source. Complaining to others about what someone else has done and not talking directly to that person is a great way of stirring divisiveness on a team. Many people place this behavior at the top of the destructive-behavior list.
  • Flaming e-mails. This means blaming and complaining electronically about the source of your concern and not talking directly to that person. Sometimes the perpetrator makes this unacceptable behavior even worse by copying others with the disruptive e-mail.
  • Focusing on perceived intentions. Making assumptions about another person — and, of course, assuming the worst — is not a great frame of mind for dealing with team members about your concerns.

Running on the constructive track

Because disagreements and differences are inevitable with teams, your best strategy is encouraging team members to learn behaviors that help them work through conflicts and maintain respectful working relationships in the process. If you want to realize the benefits that can come out of conflicts (creativity, richer solutions, stronger teamwork), put these constructive behaviors into practice:

  • Stay in control. Being in control of your own emotions is where you begin when you're working out a concern with another person. Venting your frustration, spewing your anger, or throwing sarcastic barbs only shows that you're out of control and prevents you from inviting the cooperation of others.
  • Be direct, factual, and sincere. You have to express your concern or problem clearly and constructively so that others understand where you're coming from. Getting to the point, stating the facts as you know them, and speaking with candor and respect are the best ways of getting to a point constructively and increasing the likelihood that you'll be heard the way you want to be heard.
  • Go to the source. A conflict is best resolved by addressing it face-to-face with the other party. Telling a third party or communicating by e-mail cannot replace the person-to-person conversation that's required for conflict resolution to work. Despite the discomfort you may feel with this direct method, a good old-fashioned talk still is the tried-and-true method for resolving conflicts.
  • Get into problem solving. So you have a conflict with another team member. Big deal! And you've worked out a solution with the other team member? Oh, now, that is the big deal. The whole idea is not the fact a difference or disagreement exists between two or more people, but rather that actions are taken to hammer out a solution. When you're able to work out solutions with other team members, now that's the big deal that teams need to have for resolving conflicts.
  • Actively listen. Active listening is all about showing that you care and working to understand what someone else is saying and what that person truly means. Understanding that efforts to actively listen are greatly needed during conflict situations isn't difficult. Those efforts are greatly needed so that the parties can work out their concerns.
  • Assume that the other person means well. This assumption is the safest that you can make when you're working with someone else, especially when you're dealing with a conflict. When you assume that the other person means well, you don't have to worry that someone's out to get you. You're free to deal with the actions and issues at hand. What a relief!
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