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Conflict is an inevitable outcome when you are part of a group. That’s why it is important to understand effective conflict resolution strategies to reap the full benefits of working in teams. The key to that is to employ conflict resolution strategies to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of working in groups.
Working as a team provides incredible benefits to an organization in terms of productivity and performance. As the saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” Differing opinions can provide better solutions to problems that any single individual can identify on their own. However, conflicts are bound to arise.
Many people have different methods for dealing with conflict. Some people ignore conflicts, and others avoid conflict at all costs. Some deal with conflict by blaming others. However, these are not effective conflict resolution strategies.
Avoiding or ignoring conflict opens you up to the possibility that others will take advantage of you at work and in your personal life. Others may view you as an easy target. Blaming others is a pointless exercise which merely distracts people from dealing with the cause of conflicts. This is a lost opportunity to correct possible errors in thinking or behavior. Also, this guarantees the cycle of conflict followed by placing blame on other people will continue perpetually.
Conflict in Organizations
Conflict isn’t a bad thing. Healthy criticism and differing viewpoints are features of pretty much all high-functioning teams. A dispute involving constructive differences in opinion can improve the quality of products, strategies, and work processes.
On the flip side, negative conflict can be destructive and disruptive to the group’s workflow. By employing effective conflict resolution strategies, you can prevent conflict from escalating.
Preventing Escalation of Conflicts
It is essential to employ effective conflict resolution strategies when they arise. But it is also important to prevent conflict from escalating into more disruptive events. Individual members of teams need to develop skills and behaviors to counter the tendency of disputes to become increasingly severe. However, there are some critical skills that prevent conflicts from developing into more severe crises.
Proactively deal with conflict
Some people have a natural tendency to avoid conflict. Others prefer to not deal with conflicts because they don’t want to confront superiors or comply due to perceived job security concerns.
The problem with not resolving conflict in its early stages is that it will inevitably become worse. For example, the conflict causing behavior may persist, or even become more common due to the acceptance of the first event by others. Or individuals may intensify their problem behavior as there is a lack of repercussions perceived at work. These only make the problem worse, and causes increased levels of conflict.
There is also a secondary problem with postponing implementation of conflict resolution strategies. If individuals have issues that need discussion, keeping them bottled up inside only serves to increase levels of negative emotion. Often this initiates passive aggressive behaviors directed at individuals without due cause for the simple reason that there are unresolved issues between team members.
Practicing effective communication
It is important to state your thoughts and ideas clearly. Often, misunderstandings result not from the disagreement on specific information, but rather on faulty assumptions about the intended meaning of statements made.
Also, it is vital to practice active listening. The receiver of information needs to summarize thoughts and ideas and clarify whenever they have questions regarding data and ideas presented. They state that summary to the person they are listening to, and the other person simply clarifies any portion that wasn’t easily understood. Often the misunderstandings mentioned above occur as the result of ineffective listening. Active listening helps to avoid them.
Effective communication requires that team members show respect to one another and are open to differences in opinion. If emotions get involved in the discussion, it is best to take a break and revisit the discussion once feelings have subsided.
Keep the focus on facts and issues
Another important consideration for managing conflict is to keep the discussion focused on relevant facts and issues. Don’t target the personalities of individual team members. Ad hominem attacks only cause negative emotions to develop regarding the disagreement between team members. And they serve no productive purpose in effectively dealing with the sources of conflict.
Keep conflict within the team
Bringing team conflict outside the team only creates the opportunity for escalation of the conflict. It can be a distraction by offering opinions and information from people not directly related to the source of conflict, and can serve to divide the team. Furthermore, it can detract from the resolution of conflict by offering additional points of view from outside the team perspective.
Conflict Resolution Strategies
In cases in which a team goes beyond a healthy difference of opinion, resolving conflict requires mutual respect and understanding. The human reaction to conflict involves our emotions, perceptions, and actions. The interaction of these factors often brings about an impasse in the effective functioning of individuals within teams, and thus, the overall team performance. It is essential to address these three concerns in order to improve team performance effectively.
Here, we detail a three-stage process which is highly effective for addressing team friction in conflict resolution strategies.
Step 1: Preparation for conflict resolution
Conflict needs to be recognized first, before any conflict resolution strategies or resolution occur. As mentioned above, it is common for people to ignore the initial signs of conflict. This can be due to many factors, including the immediate reaction that the disagreement is inconsequential. Or, that the conflict is difficult to differentiate from a normal, healthy debate. When in doubt, discuss the situation with team members and assess whether the issue demands attention from members.
Identify the impacts of conflict on team performance
Once you identify a conflict as needing attention from the team, it is important to examine the impact that the disagreement has on the group. Ultimately, an issue that is undermining the performance and healthy functioning of the team needs addressing. Proactive management of conflict is vital to maximize the effectiveness of the team and to prevent conflict from festering and threatening the sustainable operation of the group.
Initiate a cooperative process
All members involved in the conflict need to cooperate to resolve issues. This requires the shared belief of putting the team first. Individual opinions or ideas need to be put aside for the collective benefit of the group. Pursuing self-interests over the greater gain of the team may create a stalemate in effectively managing the conflict.
Foster open communication between members
A critical factor in addressing conflict is maintaining active lines of communication. Group members must talk about any issues that arise and share their opinions and feelings. Active listening is critical to understanding the views and ideas of others. In addition, active listening promotes greater respect and closer relationships within the team.
Step 2: Examine the conflict
When the team is prepared to work on conflict resolution, it is important to examine the conflict and the differing team members’ points of view. Be sure to allow sufficient time for team members to voice their opinions. In some cases, emotions are a prominent factor in the conflict event. So it is crucial to address the conflict using structured conflict resolution strategies that ensure a logical approach is taken.
Clarify team members’ positions
All conflicts require the opportunity for members to clarify their position. Whether there are subgroups within the team that support a particular option or each team member in the group holds their unique view, sharing these differing viewpoints helps the group view the conflict event more objectively and with less emotional investment.
Discuss the facts and beliefs underlying each position
What are the shared beliefs of each person or group involved in the conflict? What support do these groups hold for their views? It is essential to grasp the viewpoints of team members to more effectively reach a solution as well as to encourage open communication by showing you value their viewpoint.
As members share their different viewpoints, be sure to restate your understanding of their position. This will not only solidify your understanding of the information, but it will also the give the other person the opportunity to correct anything you may have misinterpreted.
Analyze the conflict in small groups
Dividing the team into smaller groups is an effective way of dissecting the problem. Separate people who feature similar viewpoints to represent these perspectives in team groups, as well as encouraging open-mindedness toward opposing views.
By sharing facts and beliefs that lead team members to form their positions concerning the issue, the group will gain a better understanding of the various perspectives involved. This can reveal new areas of agreement which can save time and energy by focusing the efforts of the group on the remaining areas of disagreement. Also, understanding everyone’s perspective can identify new ideas and solutions for the members involved.
There are various structured evaluation tools that systematically incorporate and evaluate various perspectives to determine solutions. Conflict resolution strategies often utilize these effective tools.
Quantitative pros and cons are useful for making quick decisions on events that are not critical but require fast resolution. Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis is a useful tool for identifying the needs of individuals and groups when implementing change. A standard instrument for evaluating various choices regarding conflicts is the cost-benefit analysis.
Step 3: Negotiate agreement
After all team members have shared their opinions and ideas concerning an issue, the team needs to determine the best solution or course of action to follow. At this stage, it is easier to see possible solutions and areas open to agreement.
However, further analysis and evaluation may be required. In this case, it is important to agree on what needs to be done and how. In many cases, the use of evaluation tools may help in this process. Deciding on an appropriate tool can be an effective and fair solution for team members, as they enable a systematic approach that ultimately reaches an agreement among team members.
A win-win negotiation is a careful discussion of your position as well as the competing positions surrounding the source of conflict. This conflict resolution strategy aims to identify outcomes that provide all competing interests as much of what they want as possible regarding the issue at hand. This technique effectively offers concessions to all parties that do not conflict with the interests of the other parties.
Modified Borda Count
Another effective conflict resolution strategy involves the use of the Modified Borda Count (MBC). The MBC is a preference voting procedure that seeks to identify the overall preferred outcome for the team. It acts as a points system and involves the steps of debate, vote, and vote analysis.
Multivoting is an effective conflict resolution strategy when there are many ideas and factors associated with the source of conflict. This system allows groups to assign priorities quickly and involves fostering high levels of team agreement throughout the resolution process.
Benefits of Conflict in Teams
Conflict provides many significant benefits to the productivity and performance of teams. It exposes the group to new ideas and alternatives to work processes. Also, it teaches flexibility in team members by better understanding the needs of others. This translates into better customer service and relationships with suppliers and stakeholders. In addition, it develops problem-solving skills which enable team members to better approach challenges and improve operations and processes at work.
But teams only realize the incredible benefits when organizations employ effective conflict resolution strategies. Otherwise, the negative aspects of conflict can deteriorate the effective functioning of the group.
By preparing for conflict resolution, team members can effectively establish a process for systematically addressing the source of the conflict. By examining the conflict, each member gets the opportunity to state their position regarding the problem. This facilitates the team’s understanding of the varying perspectives involved, which leads to a higher likelihood of determining a practical solution. Finally, negotiating agreement addresses the problem in order to determine what works best for the group.