Conflict is Inevitable – How do You and Your Team Handle it?

 In Blog

By: Meredith Masse


Conflict is Inevitable – How do You and Your Team Handle it?

At ICC, we’re big fans of the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team, and our certified consultants have supported countless teams in moving from dysfunctional to cohesive using Patrick Lencioni’s powerful model. What still strikes us is the number of teams we talk to that claim, “Conflict? Gosh, we don’t have any conflict. We’re all good here.”

RED LIGHT. No conflict? Really?

Typically, when we hear a response like this, it is an indication that there is indeed conflict but no one’s confronting it. Conflict can be swept under the rug in a “culture of nice” because colleagues don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings when they think they aren’t in agreement. Or, it’s ignored because “why bother” is the ruling sentiment. Or, perhaps worse yet, teammates aren’t allowed to disagree with the boss and challenge his/her ideas in a culture of fear.

Bottom line: without healthy conflict exceptional team and business results are likely to be lackluster at best. In fact, constructive conflict is necessary for innovation and effective problem solving.

But we get it: conflict can be scary. There are as many reasons people avoid conflict as there are personalities in any organization. Rather than focus on that diagnosis, let’s focus on tools to help make conflict less stressful with these tips:

  1. Understand your natural way of dealing with conflict. Do you avoid, accommodate, compromise, collaborate or compete in times of conflict? Recognizing how you naturally handle conflict is important self-awareness and opens the door to more choices.
  2. Recognize you do have a choice. You do have a natural style, but you also have a choice in styles at your disposal when dealing with conflict. Which style you choose will depend on who else is involved, the urgency (or lack of) of the situation, the emotional investment of everyone involved and more. Take a step back, look at the full picture, then decide which style is most appropriate for creating the best outcomes.
  3. Avoid a “destructive path” in times of conflict. Train yourself or work with a mentor or coach to help you reframe during times of conflict. For example, avoid extreme language – “always” and “never” rarely actually apply (“You ‘never’ get me that report on time.” “You are ‘always’ late with the monthly sales numbers.”) only add fuel to the fire.
  4. Make constructive conflict your goal. Replace toxic language as you practice more constructive conflict conversations to move you and others toward your common goals. Instead of “You are always late with the monthly sales numbers.” Reframe around the facts of the situation and the impact. “I have to stay late and have missed my son’s lacrosse games to write the report for the boss when you give me the monthly sales numbers late. What can we change so that this report is on time with less stress for us both?”
  5. Build trust first. Does your team lack a foundation of trust to be able to have healthy conflict? This post addresses the important distinction between two kinds of trust — predictive trust and vulnerability — based trust. Both are critical in team development and a team’s ability to produce business results.

Want to learn more about building conflict competence on your team? Contact ICC. And, we’d love to have your comments below.

*Five conflict styles from the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

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