No team, whether workplace, sports, family, or community, is void of conflict. Life is full of differing ideas, values, beliefs, and emotions. And there are countless ways to handle conflict. As we mature in life and obtain more experience with conflict, we learn different ways to handle it. Hence, managing conflict on teams is one of the hats all leaders share. Why do leaders need tips for managing conflict on teams?

When teams are performing well, it’s not because conflict doesn’t exist, but that the members learn to put aside their own belief systems and learn to cooperate and engage with others, despite differences. This, of course, is not easy and according to a 2022 Gallup Employee Engagement Report confirms that only 34% of U.S. employees are engaged at work. And the numbers are steadily decreasing. 

The causes of disengagement in the workplace are many, but one reason may be because conflicts are spreading around the organization and solutions are not present. By the same token, team performance is hampered when unresolved or mishandled conflicts are added to the equation. 

Tips For Managing Conflict

How can leaders and managers correct this negative trend and turn conflict into opportunity on their teams?

Learn Individual Member Strengths

Many managers already know the strengths of their workers. Therefore, the next step is to strategize opportunities to make those strengths line up with other workers, including those that don’t see eye-to-eye. Help them distinguish where their strengths match and how together they can help the organization. When managers can find employee strengths that, when used properly, can help another worker, the buy-in and engagement from those workers also increases.  When buy-in and engagement increase, team productivity also increases. 

If you are unsure of your teams’ individual member strengths, there are several tools that you can purchase to help you uncover them.  

Here is a short list:

You can also just ask questions, engage with your employees, and come up with some strengths without having to pay money. According to the Harvard Business Review, 77% of employees who said they were engaged at work described interactions with their managers positively. Just spending time with your team, and demonstrating that you care, could make a big difference.

Avoiding this work could lead to underperforming teams who may not be as bought-in or as engaged as you would hope. 

A diverse group of employees working together at a desk and smiling like they are working through a conflict.

Embrace Conflict

If asked how many times you deflect or avoid conflict, what would your percentage be?  Would you say 25%, 50%, 75%?  According to the report “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive” by CPP Global the Human Report, 85% of employees deal with conflict at some level. Hence, there are lots of instances where leaders could just ignore conflict altogether.

Here are some other interesting facts from this report:

  • 29 percent of employees deal with it almost constantly
  • 34 percent of conflict occurs among front-line employees
  • 49 percent of conflict is a result of personality clashes and “warring egos”
  • 34 percent of conflict is caused by stress in the workplace
  • 33 percent of conflict is caused by heavy workloads
  • 27 percent of employees have witnessed conflicts lead to personal attacks
  • 25 percent of employees have seen conflict result in sickness or absence

These numbers demonstrate how often conflict is present on teams. So instead of making the goal of the workplace to be “conflict-free,” make the goal of the workplace to be “conflict-embracing.”  An organization that is a conflict-embracing is one that transforms conflict into opportunity, where members of the team embrace the challenges that come with conflicts.  

Managed conflict can lead to the acceptance of new ideas, different ways to evaluate things, less stress, and more team participation. If the leaders demonstrate how to turn conflict from a negative to a positive, the chances of the team embracing it increases. For example, when two members of the same team can’t seem to cooperate, the leader can show them how to embrace their conflict to move them in a path of cooperation.

This may mean adding a mediator for a time, or setting up rules of conflict, such as they can’t take it out of the workplace or giving them a deadline to come to an agreement with a new idea.  There are countless ways to support and encourage team opportunity through conflict-embracing. It just takes a leader who can creatively set the tone. 

Understand Emotions

Most conflict comes with emotions. That can be a positive if it is understood that emotions are not directed at people. Keep the emotions directed at the issue at hand or the problem trying to be solved.

Another common misconception is how to let passion play a role. Passion is not an emotion, but emotions can show up when passion is displayed. Passion is good and it can exist without shouting and screaming at each other. A leader can help direct this energy and allow conflict resolution to continue.   

When emotions are understood and employees are trained to allow each other’s passion to drive the conversation, conflict resolution can still work. And buy-in, along with productivity, continues to grow.

Beware of Body Language During Conflict

Body language speaks louder than words. Seventy percent of communication is non-verbal in nature. Therefore, recognizing body language as part of conflict resolution is essential. 

Leaders should set clear expectations and limitations on appropriate and inappropriate body language during conflicts. Help each member identify and understand how their own body language affects the conversation, each other, and the team as a whole.   

A woman showing body language with raised shoulders and eyebrows during a conflict.

Don’t Assume It’s One and Done

Leaders constantly monitor team performance. The bottom line must be met, or you lose your job. You evaluate each member’s track record, numbers, and production. The same holds true for organizational conflicts.

Conflict monitoring could be part of the evaluation process for teams. Some conflicts have a way of resurfacing later. If signs of team conflict show up again, leaders must evaluate the situation and take into consideration that if allowed to fester, the work from the first conflict resolution could disappear. It would be a mistake to avoid those signs assuming that the first conflict resolution was sufficient. Each new conflict brings a new opportunity. The best process is to catch it early when those issues reemerge. Revisit the process and allow the conflict to resolve a second time, remembering that each process could introduce a better outcome.

Make Conflict A Positive

Conflict does not have to be a bad word on a team. When dealing with your teams, conflict resolution could be fun, engaging and results oriented. When properly practiced and executed, it could become a foundational cornerstone of your team and organizational culture.

For example, you could talk about conflicts more with your team. You could set up a “Conflict Wednesday” or any day of the week), where your team brings you a conflict they resolved together. And you could present examples to your team where other companies overcame conflicts. You could also role play with your teams.  There are several ways you could attack conflict resolution.

Bringing light to the conflict and making it a positive experience will breed more conflict resolution. The outcome of more conflict resolution is a high-functioning, peak performing team.

Not many organizations would agree that conflicts are fun. Could your team be different? 

 , , ,